The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Surendranath Tagore

Not a lot happens in The Home and the World, but a lot is felt and thought and said. The novel explores male and female gender ideals, the changing role of women in the modern world, and approaches to political change. It showcases contrasting character traits: patience and impulsivity, thoughtfulness and recklessness, candor and cunning, generosity and jealousy, conscientiousness and ambition, practicality and idealism.

The main character, Bimala, is an Indian woman caught in a love triangle with her mild, loving husband Nikhil and the charismatic, impetuous nationalist Sandip. She has always had a place in the home, but what is her place in the world?

See my Backlist books post on Asian Books Blog for more on this Bengali novel. See below for what stood out when I read it.

Continue reading The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Surendranath Tagore

Burmese Days by George Orwell

In Burmese Days, a novel inspired by the author’s own stint in the steaming jungles of upper British Burma, plot-related tensions seem on the verge of boiling over. The conflict between local crime boss U Po Kyin and the civil surgeon, Dr. Veraswami, threatens to interfere not only with Flory’s plan to get his friend elected to the local European club, but also with his plan to marry Elizabeth, in whom he somehow manages to see a worthy companion for himself—worthier, certainly than his Burmese mistress Ma Hla May! Elizabeth, meanwhile, seems to have fallen for a young horseman temporarily stationed in Kyauktada. Whose plans will succeed and whose fail, and what lessons does Orwell want us to learn from all this?

For more on where and when the novel is set, a list of the members of the Kyauktada European Club, and some interesting quotes from the novel, see my Backlist books post on Asian Books Blog.

When and Why I Read Burmese Days

Reading this as a follow up to Not Out of Hate.

Genre: fiction (historical)
Date started / date finished: 03-Jun-2018 / 08-Jun-2018
Length: 461
ISBN: ASIN B003WJQ6RW
Originally published in: 1934/1974
Amazon link: Burmese Days

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

When I bought The Good Earth from the Amazon Kindle store, I had to choose between buying it by itself for $7.50 or buying the whole trilogy for $15.39. I’m glad I only bought the first one. One was enough.

The style of writing is simple in a kind of old-fashioned, grand, Biblical way that grated on me long before I reached the end. Long compound sentences rolled along relentlessly, one after another, connecting each thought or action with the previous one. Never have I read a book that contained so many “and”s. Moreover, those “and”s didn’t seem to be building towards anything in a meaningful way. The novel had a straightforward timeline and virtually zero tension, zero plot.

See my Backlist books post on The Good Earth on Asian Books Blog for more thoughts on this Pulitzer Prize–winning historical novel set in 1920s China.

When and Why I Read The Good Earth

This book was chosen by Rachel of the Hungry Hundred Book Club for June 2018.

Genre: fiction (historical)
Date started / date finished: 23-May-2018 / 27-May-2018
Length: 225
ISBN: ASIN B008F4NRA8
Originally published in: 1931
Amazon link: The Good Earth

The Fugitive by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

I enjoyed this short, out-of-print book more than I necessarily expected to. It got off to a slow start, especially for such a short novel, but it gave me lots of food for thought.

The Fugitive was written by a highly regarded Indonesian nationalist. In writing about the book, I learned that the author’s name, though in three parts, is not a first, middle, and last name with the family name last. It’s just a name. He is referred to as “Pramoedya” (which is also spelled “Pramudya”) or just “Pram”.

Read more about the book in my Backlist books post about The Fugitive at Asian Books Blog.

When and Why I Read The Fugitive

I am reading this Indonesian novel for my Backlist books column at Asian Books Blog.

Genre: Fiction (historical)
Date started / date finished: 17-Apr-2018 / 23-Apr-2018
Length: 171
ISBN: 0688086985
Originally published in: 1950/1990
Amazon link: The Fugitive

Not out of Hate by Ma Ma Lay (thoughts on postcolonial literature)

I posted some background information and opinions on Not Out of Hate in a post about the book on Asian Books Blog.

This post explains why I chose this Burmese novel to feature in my Backlist books column, even though I didn’t start out with the intent to study Southeast Asian postcolonial literature.

Continue reading Not out of Hate by Ma Ma Lay (thoughts on postcolonial literature)

King Rat by James Clavell

Here’s a favorite quote from King Rat:

Writing can be just about the most important job in the whole world. If it’s any good…. A writer can put down on a piece of paper an idea—or a point of view. If he’s any good he can sway people, even if it’s written on toilet paper. And he’s the only one in our modern economy who can do it—who can change the world.

For some thoughts on the novel, check out my post on Asian Books Blog about King Rat.

When and Why I Read King Rat

I’m re-reading this novel for Asian Books Blog. I read it in 2001.

Genre: fiction (historical)
Date started / date finished:  14-Jan-18 to 26-Jan-18
Length: 352 pages
ISBN: 0440145465
Originally published in: 1962/1983
Amazon link: King Rat

The Social Cancer (Noli Me Tangere) by José Rizal

I posted some background information and opinions on The Social Cancer (Noli Me Tangere) in my Backlist books post on Asian Books Blog.

Below are some quotes from the book and explanations for why I chose them.

Continue reading The Social Cancer (Noli Me Tangere) by José Rizal

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

I’d bet far more people have heard of this influential Chinese classic than have read it.

The military strategist to whom The Art of War is attributed is known in English as “Sun Tzu”, which I’m guessing most people pronounce like “sun zoo”, but which is actually supposed to be something more like “soon dzuh”. (The pinyin is Sun Zi, and the characters are 孙子.)

I’m a poor historian, so it’s hard for me to judge the impact of Sun Tzu’s text either on the battles of his own time or on those fought in the centuries since then. Its impact on the world of contemporary English-language publishing, however, is readily apparent thanks to the proliferation of books that bear titles such as The Art of War for ExecutivesThe Art of War for Small Business, and even The Art of War for Dating. Surely the work that inspired all these copycats is worth a look.

The edition I read is based on the 1910 translation by Lionel Giles, and contains his notes inserted directly in the text. The notes explain or expand on the advice in more detail or give examples from world history of the situations described, showing how the advice applies in specific instances.

Hannibal defeated the Romans because breakfast.

I found the translation suitably dignified but modern enough to sound sensible. The version I read (ISBN 9781444727364, 102 pages) was edited and has a foreword by James Clavell, author of Shogun and a series of other long, popular novels set in Asia.

Here are some links to free versions of The Art of War at gutenberg.org:

Click to read my post on The Art of War over at Asian Books Blog to find out what you need to know to decide whether you should bother, or how to talk about it even if you never do!

Meanwhile, China, realising that sometimes cultural products are famous for being famous, has attempted to capitalise on The Art of War by using its fame as a lure for tourists… and to buttress its image as a cooperative world power. It’s worth a try, I guess.

When and Why I Read The Art of War

Re-reading this classic for Asian Books Blog.

Genre: non-fiction (Chinese history, military strategy)
Date started / date finished:  03-Jul-17 to 14-Jul-17
Length: 102
ISBN: 9781444727364
Originally published in: 2013 (this edition)
Amazon link: The Art of War