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julianmeynell

Julian Meynell's Books

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Cao Xueqin's The Dream of the Red Chamber

Dream of the Red Chamber - Chan Ts0ao, Chan Ts0ao

I was a little disappointed in this book.  The version I read is radically abridged, so any judgment must be a little unfair.  Never-the-less, while there are beautiful passages and chapters, especially the ones that are broadly speaking magical realism, it lacks a certain something.  It gives an inside look at a well-off but declining family with there numerous members and servants and hangers-on.  Its truly a journey into a foreign world, and of the Chinese books that I have read, China has never seemed stranger.  Its a world where life is cheap and manners are everything.

 

However, Cao Xueqin does not really interrogate his subject matter.  He is not really a particularly insightful author and accepts the reality of his cultures and characters with little comment.  The magical bits provide a kind of commentary, but it is really a succession of incidents.  The version I read is bound together by a love story between Pao-Yu and Black Jade, but I wonder how much this is just careful selection to make Western Readers feel at home.  Its worth reading, but any book which seems most useful as a peak at a particular culture in a particular time period, can not, in my opinion, lay claim to true greatness.  I have read an abridged version of Journey to the West, and I fully intend to read the whole thing at some point, because it is a work of genius.  I cannot imagine taking the time to read an unabridged version of Dream of the Red Chamber.  I'm glad I read it, but it does seem overrated to me.