China, Black Cats, and Pym

Dear Reader:

I finished a couple more books and bought one more book 80) Barbara Pym’s A Glass of Blessings (HC, 1958).  I got the book at the very nice used bookstore “The Dusty Bookshelf” in Lawrence, Kansas.  What a lovely bookmark!  I collect them in a casual way – trying to get at least one from every independent bookstore I visit.  Barbara Pym is on my reading list and I only have one of her books (Quartet in Autumn) which I read awhile ago.

#69: Bei Dao’s Waves: Stories (1985)

Bei Dao is a famous modern Chinese poet.  This is a book of his stories and one novella (Waves).  I took this book on my trip last week because I needed something lighter than the other China-related tomes I’m reading.  I made my way through this book pretty quickly.  It is beautifully written (and translated), you can see the poet influence…

For instance: “Sunlight slid onto the glass desk top as I lowered my eyelids.  A warm band of orange trembled lightly.  It was a still morning.  At intervals, the oppressive sound of popped rice spread through the lane.” (p. 41, from the story “Moon on the Manuscript~”.

Somehow this book is closer to modern sensibilities than Heavy Wings.  I don’t think it is just the fact that it was published a couple years later.  I think Bei Dao is more modern and his stories, while dealing with the topics common to Chinese authors post 1960s (Cultural Revolution, Cultural Revolution, oppression, oppression) is more focused on relationship in a fuller manner than Zhang Jie.  Maybe Bei Dao is just more honest about relationships…  Of course, standard story, he lives in exile as he had a hard time writing and publishing his work the way that he wanted while in China.

The six short stories deal with an intellectual bereft during the Cultural Revolution, a child encountering her father after many years – he had been sent away to prison and she can’t forgive him, couples fighting and wanting to divorce but unable to get state permission to do so leaving them stuck, a writer struggling to balance writing and family in the face of the Chinese state, the difficult interrelations between work colleagues, and a Brave New World/Brazil (the movie)/Kafkaesque tale of attempting to move through the Chinese sociopolitical system.  Waves is a story that weaves all these themes together and deals with a couple: Xiao Ling and Bai Hua.  The two are drawn to each other, but work, poverty, oppression, violence, and overall depression challenge their relationship.

If you ever wonder how intellectually-oriented Chinese have made their way through the system in recent decades, Waves shows how difficult it has been, but also how you have to look for small rays of hope to continue on.  I was at an art museum last week that had some conceptual art that was a Chinese policeman on a pulley who periodically got yanked up to the skies and was left there to twist and turn, all while holding an apple in his mouth like a pig…  Before I knew it was a policeman, I saw it as a metaphor for an individual in Chinese society living at the mercy of a system that is arbitrary and highly oppressive.  After learning it was a policeman, I’m not so sure, but I think the idea might be that they also are yanked around by the state…

#23 The Black Cat by Martha Grimes

It has been awhile since I talked about a mystery.  This is another of the books I took because it was light (and I was partway through it) and I needed something for those minutes at the beginning and end of plane legs where you can’t use your kindle.

I bought this in desperation in Sweden last winter (I’d read whatever I brought with me and needed another plane book).  I’ve read Martha Grimes before and enjoyed her.  The story is told around the efforts of Scotland Yard Superintendent Jury and his sidekick Melrose (a lapsed lord).

The story unfolds as “escorts” are starting to die…  The Black Cat is both a pub and an animal found close to the first body.  As the story evolves it shifts back and forth between humans and animals – in some chapters Morris (a black cat, there are three) and Mundy, a dog that is Morris’s sidekick, talk to each other (mentally).  Normally, I find talking animals too much, but in this case I could tolerate it because they are sarcastic (I guess, it’s a theory).

Shoes are rather important to the story (Louboutins, Manolo Blahniks, Kate Spades) – if you enjoy $10,000 shoes, you might find this particularly fun.  Ultimately, the book was OK, but it did take me seven months to finish it and it is a mystery.  So, I suppose that is not the most ringing endorsement.

Back to reading my heavy China books which I AM enjoying very much!

Happy Reading, Ruby

I number books by their mention in the blog and HC refers to Hard Copy.



  1. Lol, I don’t think they’ll put this review on the back of The Black Cat – an okay book that onlly takes seven months to read 🙂

    I think sometimes when we are interested in a topic even the ‘heavy’ books about it are more interesting than ‘lighter’ reads. I’d rather read a text book about something I like than a so-so mystery.

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