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?
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.
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”.
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.
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 Executives, The 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.
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:
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
Originally published in: 2013 (this edition)
Amazon link: The Art of War