Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Radomly Reading Eileen Chang

So, I've been cooped up in the house the last few days with PINK EYE. Blargh. It's pretty sucktastic.

But, I have gotten a bunch of reading done.

I did some decided to use the random number generator and have a book picked for me for the Random Reading Challenge. My number was 263, which happened to be...

The Rouge of the North Eileen Chang

At the end of the Qing dynasty, Yindi lives with her brother and sister-in-law above their sesame oil shop until she's married off to the second son of a wealthy, but fading, family. He's an invalid and she finds herself attracted to her husband's younger brother. Yindi is not satisfied with her lot in life, but not strong enough to break out of the mold. Instead, she scandalizes the family by talking about taboo subjects without discretion and turns to opium. She becomes more and more controlling and demented, turning her household into the same place she always hated, but with her in charge.

Yes, the plot is the same as Chang's novella, "The Golden Cangue" which can be found in her Love in a Fallen City, which I reviewed here (and loved). After reading The Rouge of the North, I reread "The Golden Cangue" (so, I've read it three times now.)

In her short stories and novellas, Chang is the queen of the understatement. I often have to reread scenes so I can figure out what happened (let's not talk a bout how many times I had to read the ending of Lust, Caution because I figured out what had gone down.)

The Rouge of the North lacks this understatement. The full length novel (written in English, while "The Golden Cangue" was written in Chinese) explores things more fully and gives more explanations and motivations to Yindi's behavior. Here, we see a woman who is dissatisfied with her female role in society, but trapped by it. In "Cangue" Qiqiao was just crazy insane. It wasn't all opium, but you're unsure as to why she is the way she is. I didn't like Yindi, but I understood her more.

English was Chang's second language and while she writes in it very well, it lacks some of the poetry of her translated works.

Take this passage from "The Golden Cangue":

A gust of wind came in the window and blew against the long mirror in the scrollwork lacquered frame until it rattled against the wall. Qiqiao pressed the mirror down with her hands. The green bamboo curtain and a green and gold landscape scroll reflected in the mirror went on swinging back and forth in the wind--one could get dizzy watching it for long. When she looked again the green bamboo curtain had faded, the green and gold landscape was replaced by a photograph of her deceased husband, and the woman in the mirror was also ten years older.

Compare it to the same transition in The Rouge of the North:

[this is preceded by a chapter where she attempts to hang herself. This is how the next chapter starts]

The green bamboo blind kept moving in the summer breeze coming in the window. Sunlight tiger-striped the room and swayed back and forth. A large black-framed photograph of Second Master knocked on the wall. That time it had been he who called out and she was let down in time. She had never worn mourning white for him because Old Mistress was still alive. Heavy mourning would have been a bad omen pointing to the head of the house. Now she worse mourning for Old Mistress.

Not my favorite one of her works, but Chang remains one of my favorite authors and I did very much enjoy reading this.

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