Books with a China theme (2017 list)
According to Goodreads, where I register all my readings, in 2017 I read 23 books (one of them in Chinese, the rest in English and Spanish), 6 comic books (one of them in Chinese, the rest in English) and 3 novellas. I read less than last year because, as you know, I was quite busy organising two weddings and two international trips for guests. I also spent more time learning work-related things (i.e. playing videogames. Yes, I started playing videogames in my 30s, haha) and reading investment and finance related books, which are boring and take me a long time but I feel I really need to educate myself about these topics.
So, without further ado, these are the books related to China that I read this year! I also read many others not China-related, but I need to keep a topic here.
– Wild Swans, by Jung Chang
The 20th century was quite eventful in China and it deeply affected the people living here. In this book, the author tells the story of her grandmother, her mother and herself, which runs parallel to the history of China. The warlords era, the Nationalist party, the Communist liberation, the Cultural Revolution… It was published in 1991 and it quickly became a success. I love reading about Chinese history and I never get tired of personal stories from the Cultural Revolution so I liked it a lot.
– Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie
This story is also set in the Cultural Revolution, but the tone is different, lighter and comical. Two urban teenagers are sent to work in a village lost in the mountains in the west of China because their parents are “class enemies”. They manage to get on the villagers’ good side by entertaining them with stories they remember from books and movies and both of them fall in love with the prettiest girl in the area.
– Everything Under the Sky, by Matilde Asensi
In the 1920s, a Spanish woman goes to Shanghai and ends up involved in a search for the tomb of the first emperor. This author’s novels are very popular in Spain but I’m not a big fan. There were some errors in the text (right now I only remember it said Yunnan is a city, when everybody knows it is a province) and I just couldn’t like the main character. The story is entertaining, though, and it could totally be made into one of those tomb-raiders films that are so popular in China now.
– Parsley and Coriander, by Antonella Moretti
A story about several Italian women who live in China. I featured this book on my blog a few months ago.
– The Garlic Ballads, by Mo Yan
Mo Yan won the Nobel prize in Literature in 2012. This is the first of his books that I read and, to be honest, I found it surprising he is still living in China and free! In this story, the Communist officials are definitely not the good guys. It’s about a rural area where all the peasants plant garlic because the government promises to buy the full harvest. When the moment comes, the officials realise there is too much garlic and won’t buy it as promised (planning is an activity that very few people in China seem to be able to do successfully). Obviously, the peasants are not going to be too happy about this. The structure of the book is a bit strange and at first I found it very frustrating and confusing, but in the end I liked it a lot.
– Send you a horse, by San Mao
The original title is 送你一匹马, I don’t think it has been officially translated into English. Sanmao is probably Taiwan’s most famous writer and a few years ago I loved her Sahara Stories (she lived in Western Sahara when it was still a Spanish colony; she was married to a Spanish man), which I also read in Chinese. However, I bought this book without being able to peek inside as it was plastic wrapped and turns out it is a collection of articles, which I’m not a big fan of. It is useful to get to know the author herself, whom, based on those articles, seemed to me like a lonely and depressed woman.
– Chronicle of a Blood Merchant, by Yu Hua
Yu Hua is a very successful and famous writer in China and I had never read anything from him before. With this title, I was expecting a very sad and dramatic story, but nothing further from reality: I laughed a lot! It’s not that the story is comical per se (a man is forced to sell his blood to supplement his income) but the characters, the situations, the dialogues, are mostly very funny, with a very brutal and direct Chinese sense of humour. I read it in the Spanish translation, which was done by a famous professor from Barcelona University and was indeed very good.
– Brothers, by Yu Hua
I liked Chronicle of a Blood Merchant so much that I quickly started another of Yu Hua’s novels. This one was very popular when I just arrived to China and a teacher suggested we read the Chinese version, but it is quite long and I never dared (I read very, very slow in Chinese). I laughed a lot again but I am not sure I would openly recommend it, especially to sensitive Americans: there is an inordinate amount of pages dedicated to discuss bums and hymens, the main character is a sexist prick and most women in the story are slutty gold diggers. The plot is about two brothers (by their parents’ marriage, not by blood), one of them is an honest, good man and the other… will find success in Chinese society.
– Peking Story, by David Kidd
David Kidd married a woman from a Chinese aristocratic family and lived in Beijing at the end of the 1940s. Most accounts of this period that I’ve read before were from the rural side, so it was very interesting to hear about the Communist liberation from the point of view of a traditional, urban rich family.
– Expat Jimmy, by Travis Lee
A novella about the first day of an English teacher in China. I featured this book on my blog a few months ago.
– Scars, by Li Kunwu
A quite weird comic book about how the author found a lot of Japanese pictures from the Sino-Japanese war in an antique shop and the research he did about them.
– Pearl of China, by Anchee Min
A novel about Pearl S. Buck’s life in China, as seen by a Chinese friend of hers. It is an easy read and some parts are facts, but others are fiction. After reading it I got several of Pearl S. Buck’s books, but I will read them next year. I did read The Good Earth last year.
What did you read this year? Any recommendations for my ever growing China-related book list?