Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chinese lit and myth. . .

I'm still undecided as to whether I'll be glued to the television watching the Olympics. I'm usually an Olympic junkie but I can't shake the feeling of impending doom I have about this year's Games. Regardless, all the media hype has gotten me interested in reading some Chinese fiction. The Guardian has some good suggestions here for books set in Beijing, including Ma Jian's Beijing Coma, which has received stellar reviews all over the world, Ha Jin's The Crazed and A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li.

The book I'm reading now is Su Tong's Binu and the Great Wall. Tong is the author of Raise the Red Lantern and in this book, he recounts a story about a wife's search for her husband after he is forced to help build the Great Wall of China. It seems like perfect epic summer reading to me, although the novel isn't that long. It is part of the very interesting, international Myth Series that includes Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad, Jeanette Winterson's Weight and Ali Smith's recent Girl Meets Boy, among others. Top writers from around the world re-imagine any myth of their choosing and the results are entertaining and thought-provoking. I've read about half of the books in the series which also includes Victor Pelevin's The Helmet of Horror, David Grossman's Lion's Honey and Alexander McCall Smith's Dream Angus, and enjoyed them all. I think they also make great books for teens, resplendent as they are in illustrating what great (and lasting) storytelling is all about. Look for Michel Faber to join this series this fall with his very funny take on the myth of Prometheus in The Fire Gospel. Bibliophiles will love it - there are lots of in-jokes about the industry, in this "be careful what you wish for" cautionary tale.

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