marina_bonomi: (book) one of my favorite characters would say.

Among the people and groups I follow on Twitter there is (a wonderful resource on its own account), through them I discovered Unbound and a very special book.

Unbound is a British Kickstarter-like site, for books only, and the project posted about is The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth. The wake is an historical novel set in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings, in the author's words it is a story of the collapse of certainties and lives; a tale of lost gods and haunted visions, narrated by a man of the Lincolnshire fens bearing witness to the end of his world.

As if it wasn't enough (for me it definitely was), this is what the author has to say about the a very specific struggle I'm sure many on my friends' list will relate to:

More than three years ago, I began to write a historical novel which made me realise why I don’t read many historical novels. I couldn’t make the words fit, and I gradually began to see why: the language that we speak is so utterly specific to our time and place. Our assumptions, our politics, our worldview, our attitudes – all are implicit in our words, and what we do with them. In order to have any chance of this novel working, I realised I needed to imagine myself into the sheer strangeness of the past. I couldn’t do that by putting 21st century language into the mouths of eleventh-century people.

So I constructed, almost by accident, my own language: a middle ground between the Old English that would have been spoken by these characters and the English we speak today. The result is a book which is written in a tongue that no one has ever spoken, but which is intended to project a ghost image of the speech patterns of a long-dead land: a place at once alien and familiar. Another world, the foundations of our own.

Here is a short excerpt:

when i woc in the mergen all was blaec though the night had gan and all wolde be blaec after and for all time.a great wind had cum in the night and all was blown then and broc. none had thought a wind lic this colde cum for all was blithe lifan as they always had and who will hiere the gleoman when the tales he tells is blaec who locs at the heofon if it brings him regn who locs in the mere when there seems no end to its deopness
none will loc but the wind will cum. the wind cares not for the hopes of men
the times after will be for them who seen the cuman
the times after will be for the waecend

who is thu
who is thu i can not cnaw
what is angland to thu what is left of angland
i spec i spec i spec
no man lystans

I know this book will drive me crazy, but I also know I'll enjoy every minute of it.
marina_bonomi: (book)
A post by one of my LJ friends ( [ profile] la_marquise_de_, this time ), provides a lot of food for thought and sparks a post of mine. I count myself fortunate in my friends.

La marquise ponders on many things, one I feel strongly about is the matter of principles, rules, duty and sacrifice as portrayed in fantasy literature.

If one reads recent productions, by and at large it feels that we are in the age of the anti-hero, the sheer number of books with vampire main characters, for instance, seems indicative to me. Not considering the popularity of the ultimate predator as hero, though, even normal human 'heroes' seem to be mostly loners who live by their own rules, disregarding those of the society around them as arbitrary or just irrelevant, 'I do what I like and I don't give a ****' people.

I understand the idea of cycles in history and literature, I understand growing tired of 'clichèes' and going for something else (even though at times I think some people don't get the difference between a clichè and an archetype), but when I read over and over again on authors' and readers' forums that 'evil characters are more fun' or that 'goody-two-shoes are boring' I start to worry.

Let me say it loud: if a good character is boring it is because it is written badly.

I see  this idea that being good is effortless and a good character is also perfect, we all should know enough, by simply living and dealing with people around us, to realise that it is an idiocy : being good, being decent, takes effort. The tentation of shortcuts, the tentation of 'but no one is looking, no one will know' is always there, should be always there. Rules chafe, even though one recognizes the need and embraces them willingly, doubts creep in, hard choices need to be made, the dark night of the soul can threaten even the most devout and committed of paladins (or rather particularly the most devout).

One of my favorite characters (non-fantasy, but the reasononig is the same) is Brother Cadfael, the benedictine sleuth created by Ellis Peters. None who is aquainted with him can doubt that Cadfael is a good man, but he is also a complex character.
Cadfael is a Welsh monk living in an English abbey on the border between the two countries, he has taken the cowl in his fifties after a rather adventurous life, with both eyes well open and loves the life he has chosen, warts and all. With all that, he often comes in contact with different grades and shades of evil and at times has to choose, as he puts it, between obeying the rules or The Rule, but in no case is this  a travesty for 'do whatever I like' .

In the last book of the Chronicles, Cadfael comes to know that his natural son is being held prisoner, and he leaves the abbey against the wishes of his abbot to do what he feels is his superior duty towards a son he didn't know he had, knowing fully well that he might have thrown away his chosen life  with that decision. The book closes with Cadfael prostrated in front of the altar of Saint Winifred, in the abbey's church. The reader is left hoping that the errant sheep will be welcomed back, but we don't know, and neither does Cadfael.

Here are the two themes that [ profile] la_marquise_de_ (rightly, in my opinion), feels are lacking in most contemporary fantasy : duty and sacrifice, the idea that there are things worth doing, no matter the cost to oneself; the idea that my own convenience could and should take a distant second place to something else because that is the right thing, the idea that someone might choose to lay down their life, with no resurrection spell or last-minute rescue, because that is how it should be.

That is, I think, the main reason why I loved, and still love, The Wheel of Time saga (I haven't read the latest books yet), because, no matter how derivative the first book might be, or what the holes in the world-building are, or how in need of a tighter editing that huge beast was, the themes of sacrifice, choice, lesser evil, and duty, embraced, freely chosen or shouldered from what appears to be chance ('why me?') are constant threads giving meaning to the whole, that, for this reader, covers a moltitude of literary sins.

It goes without saying that I highly recommend [ profile] la_marquise_de_ 's books to anyone wanting to read fantasy with brains and elegance, her most recent post mentions quite a few other writers of note.

Death is lighter than a feather,  duty is heavier than a mountain.


Read Today

Oct. 1st, 2012 09:13 pm
marina_bonomi: (facepalm)
Because of sexual discrimination, women in ancient China seldom received education. Women were not expected to write so their work were usually lost to the time.

Really? Everywhere in China? Always in ancient China, never mind that (restricting it to imperial history) 'ancient' (or 'traditional') China goes from 221 BCE to 1644 CE (if you don't count the Manchus, 1911 CE if you do)?

And how come, then, that one of the most famous ancient Chinese historians is a woman, one who was  also a poet and  court librarian, taught the Empress and the ladies of the court and whose daughter-in-law was  a writer too?

How come that Stanford University Press has published Women Writers of Traditional China a 928-page anthology including works by about 130 female poets (and poets only) from the Han dinasty  to the end of the empire?

This kinds of extreme generalizations drive me crazy, they tend to pass from a divulgative book (or article) to the next without anyone bothering to check, much like the 'dirty and brutish' view of the European Middle Ages or the fable of the widespread hate of cats in said Middle Ages for being witches' familiars  (never mind that the animals most often quoted as diabolical were black dogs and that the height of the witch hunts was in early modern times).

It isn't the case of the OP, but often, when I see this kind of statement about women being oppressed in ancient China I can almost hear a congratulatory self-pat on the back, an unspoken 'here it was different'. Pray, tell: how many women writers can you mention for the Roman Empire? How many Greek female poets but for Sappho?
marina_bonomi: (facepalm)
I'll never understand why some US publishing houses feel the need to 'translate' British books into American English: just yesterday I bought Whispers Under Ground, the third book in Ben Aaronovitch 'Peter Grant' series, I found that 2 different editions were available in my country, the British one and thre American one, I sampled both to try to understand the differences in page lenght and other parameters, and found out that the US edition not only uses the US spelling, but also has gotten rid of all the Britishisms, so that, for instance, a donkey jacket has become a workman jacket.

Now, one of the things I love about English is its extreme versatility and the variety of its national and regional incarnations, British English isn't US English, isn't Canadian English, Indian or Ghanaian English, but each variation is understandable to speakers of the others (more or less easily, that's true).Chosing among the possibilities a good writer can individualize or regionalize his/her characters' speech (think of Tolkien, how English stands in for the common tongue in Lord of the Rings but how we don't need to be told if the speaker is an Hobbit, a Gondorian, a Rohir, an Elf or a Dwarf, their word choices, speech rythm and sentence patterns tell us).

Now, I wonder why a publishing house would think it is a good idea to make a PoC London Constable speak like an American, it may be a bit challenging to get the references, but, good grief, this was even the Kindle version, and Kindle has pre-loaded dictionaries and the ability to recognize the language one is reading in without having to preset the dictionary. How lazy do they think readers are? Or is it that they (or the readers) want to deal only with the familiar, with no element reminding them that this place is the real London, that we are in a different country and the setting isn't just a coat of varnish on some 'generic' US big city?

I don't get it.
As you may know, a few prompts bouncing back and forth between [ profile] thesilentpoet , [ profile] ysabetwordsmith and myself started a conversation that originated the Silk Road Allies alternate history project. The project now has a community on Live Journal for discussions, sharing of resources, communal world-building and posting of 'in setting' material (including a couple of new poems of mine, not previously published on LJ).

If you enjoyed our previous works and want to read more come over to [ profile] silkroadallies and make yourself confortable, if you think you might like to contribute something to the setting (prose, poetry, visual arts, music and crafts are all welcome) ask to join, membership is moderated but we'll get you approved as fast as we can.

And if you like the idea, but aren't sure about getting involved, signal boosting is really appreciated.

Thank you.
Browsing my friends' page I happened across this post by [ profile] ysabetwordsmith linking to a different post about evil races in fantasy. The whole sparked a few thoughts of mine and here they are, in part to elaborate on what the quoted OP wrote, in part to get a few things off my chest (or off my stomach, as we say in Italy).

The OP mentions  the evil race in his/her own writing saying:

Inspired by varied African folklore, they’re definitively not Orcs–nor are they based on any existing human phenotypic differences. No “tall, broad-chested, sharp-nosed, pale-skinned, with thin mouths and blue eyes degraded and repulsive versions of the (to POC) least lovely Caucasian-types” in my stories…cuz that would be ridiculous

What I really don't get is why it would be ridiculous, I'd totally read an epic fantasy work where one or more African heroes work to discover who those repulsive pink beings snatching away people are, what they want and how is it possible to foil their nefarious plans (and that's just the most obvious plot possible). What I would find ridicolous indeed, was  if such story was written only to 'turn tropes on their heads' with no research, no world building and no characterisation, but a story where caucasians are the antagonists and seen through the eyes of somebody who has had no previous contact with them and as such tries to 'read' them through his/her own standards (be it a standard of esthetics or of what constitutes civilized behaviour)? Give me!!!

Another quote that I found interesting is this one:

There’s a line of thought that Tolkien was merely pulling from European medieval texts, who used such unflattering terms to describe the Mongols, Moors, Saracens and other “foreign” armies they encountered. Take for instance the semi-mythical Frankish Song of Roland:

And Ethiope, a cursed land indeed; The blackamoors from there are in his keep, Broad in the nose they are and flat in the ear, Fifty thousand and more in company. These canter forth with arrogance and heat, Then they cry out the pagans’ rallying-cheer;

Yeah…transcribing ethnocentric medieval descriptions of human differences into fictional sub-human monsters…still *cringe* worthy.

First of all I believe that writings must be read keeping in mind when they were written, one cannot expect 2012 CE sensibilities in a 1950 CE book. Secondly why it doesn't make sense to transcribe ethnocentric medieval descriptions in a fictional work when that work is meant to be a saga (not a novel, a saga in a literary sense) set into a lost age of European history?

I've read more than one article saying that Middle-Earth is a world 'more or less' like our Earth, fact is that Middle-Earth is and moreover is meant to be our Earth, in a long-over age before the history we know and even before the continents took the places and the shapes we are familiar with (see The History of Middle-Earth and The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien for more about this).

Many readers nowadays (and even more, many US readers) seem to have problems realizing (or possibly believing) how ethnically homogeneous (from an European point of view), most of Europe was, outside of the big cities, till just a few decades ago (for my own country till about 25 years ago). When I was growing up everyone around me was caucasian and no one gave a second thought to the matter. Moreover our definition of caucasian is rather different from the one I 'get' from my US friends, it covers anyone that isn't evidently of a different ethnicity or doesn't actively claim a different ethnicity: to us people from Portugal to Russia, from Iceland to Sicily are equally caucasian (moreover  that includes also my Berber, Jordanian and Libanese collegues, and my once-removed cousin with afro-textured hair and dark eyes isn't seen as any less caucasian than his blondish fair-eyed relatives).

i remember speacking with an 80-year old Comboni father from Yorkshire, who told me that when he was about 10 he heard there was a newly-come man in his village who built and sold wonderful  kites, he gathered his courage and the little money he had and went to this gentleman's house to ask to buy a kite, and when he opened the door the kid froze in place for a few moments before bolting. The kite-builder was of African ancestry and was the first non-caucasian the boy had set eyes upon.

I remember my time as the only caucasian in my neighborhood, in Taipei, comments on my nose, hair- and eye-color were a given (particularly before everyone realized I knew the language), and I remember a kid of about three that, when he saw me, started screaming and crying. He was scared to death and I well understod why: 'white' skin, long nose, pale eyes and light hair, I do look like a Chinese demon. When a population is very homogeneous, people from a different ethnic background stand out, and usually the elements that are most different are those that become the defining characters of that group and-or get translated in myth. 
Is it dangerous? Yes. It is always bad? I don't think so. Sometimes it can be the only believable, realistic gaze, depending on the specifics of the world or community one is writing about.

Once again Professor Tolkien is often called a racist because of this line: "Out of Far Harad black men like half-troll with white eyes and red tongues"

Honestly I don't know what kind of image Tolkien had in his mind writing this, I can only say what image I see when I read it and it is something like this. To me 'black' when referred to mythical creatures has always meant black, not 'human-shade brown'.

'Uber-fair skinned elves'? Elves are part of the North-European mythology and are explicitly linked to light, they are always described as fair-skinned, I don't expect (actually I don't want) elves of different ethnicity, other cultures have their own nature spirits, elves are a European myth.

'Gandalf the White'? Yes, that's part of his 'transfiguration' and a clear (if maybe not conscious) reference to the other Transfiguration (and His garments became glistering, exceeding white, so as no fuller on earth can whiten them), our culture has a long-standing association of white with purity and light (and that's the reason why candidates bear that name, in ancient Rome candidates wore the toga candida the bleached toga that symbolized their purity of intentions), I don't believe any writer should be considered guilty for writing within his/her own cultural symbolism (even more if you are writing a work you mean as 'an epic for' your country intended as a long lost book), moreover here again white means white, not skin-pink.

But I forgot, professor Tolkien was strongly and explicitly Catholic, and that's no good either.

In Tolkien’s universe, these weak-minded men of the South and East were just hood-winked and bamboozled by the Dark Lord (He who Sits on His Dark Throne), cut off from the almost “Christ-like” light of Maiar colonial missionaries.

Well, we have the gall of believing that the devil is a real entity (not just an astraction or a symbol) and that he takes a rather keen interest in the world, and having been 'the brightest of angels' he is rather more cunning and smart than any mortal, so, when writing of the embodiement of evil from that perspective, there's no need to be 'weak-minded' to be bamboozled,

In fact there are plenty of the 'wise and honorable white guys of Gondor' who don't fare any better (I'm really sick and tired of hearing that Tolkien's characters are either wholly good or wholly evil):

Denethor is one of the best, full of good intentions, but he gets tempted through his pride (convinced he'll be able to master the Palantir) and through that he is led to desperation (in the theological meaning) and his suicide.

Boromir gives in to the ring's temptation, only to come to his senses later and try to atone protecting Merry and Pippin, ultimately dying for them.

In 'The return of the King' we learn that the Pukel-men (wich we saw at the beginning as savages) were 'hunted like beasts' by the Rohirrim (which we saw as good guys) and yet it's the Pukel-men that lead the allied armies (including the Rohirrim) through their paths so that they come in time.

And, folks, Frodo fails  he goes through all that, some of his friends die to help him on his way and right at the end he claims the ring for himself. If not for Gollum Frodo would have become the next lord of Mordor.

And given that Tolkien was an old classist reactionary (another staple comment), Sam is a ring-bearer too, and the only one to relinquish the ring completely of his own will, because he is truly humble (which doesn't mean thinking poorly of oneself, it means doing what needs to be done without taking oneself in consideration) and he can shake the temptation of power the ring provides with a laugh or a song, it has no hold on him.

And of course the professor himself is responsible for all those people that, knowingly and consciously, decided to 'repeat the formula' ripping elements from his books and regurgitating them in some kind of different shape to appeal to readers clamoring for more, more often than not grabbing just the outer layer of things with no understanding and, even worse, no love.

I guess I'll still see the same objections and comments going around tomorrow or next year, at least I do feel better now.

marina_bonomi: (book)
Today I had my last encounter with students taking part in my 'Mille Gru' (senbatsuru) school activity.
The thing is split in two two-hour 'labs', as we call them. In the first I introduce the life of Sasaki Sadako and a bit of origami history, then teach them how to fold origami cranes, with the aim to send a senbatsuru (a garland composed of 1000 paper cranes) to the Peace Museum in Hiroshima.

A couple of months later we have an haiku lab. First I introduce the haiku as a poetry form (with examples, of course), then the students, with my input and assistence, build their own lists of kigo, based on season-relevant elements for our part of the country. The students then experiment with writing haiku and, in the last part of the excercise, they read their works and I suggest revisions.The students will keep working on haiku with the help of their Literature or English teachers and some haiku will be 'incorporated' in the senbatsuru  .

Often there are very lively discussions, today's group (a 'seconda media' class, seventh graders for my American friends), were very creative and bold, not already constricted, as has happened with others, by the frames of European 'classical' poetry (which I love, but may be an hindrance in experiencing haiku if you believe that 'poetry has to rhyme'). Here is an example of today's kigo list (interestingly, in each and every group I worked with someone suggested 'Halloween' for autumn)

Today's discussion made me think about how much seasonal associations depend on one's activities and obligations.

'freedom' is a summer kigo
for students

marina_bonomi: (book)
[ profile] haikujaguar has this interesting post about speculative fiction that doesn't fit the mold of 'inspired by such and such culture' (which is a thing I love and I'd like to see more of, but it appears publishers like better playing it safe).

The post links to this list of 'Non-european Fantasy by Women' (sic), connecting nicely with this previous rant by[ profile] la_marquise_de_ .

I went to read the list out of a mix of interest (I'm always up for discovering new-to-me authors) and a masochistic streak (all those 'everything by Europe, please' posts and lists make me feel a bit like I and my fellow Europeans are plague-carriers, moreover no setting on its own guarantees a good book), and I found a couple of interesting things:

First of all: the list includes books set in Eastern Europe and Byzantium, because 'those are less known' and ' in fantasy, Europe mostly means Western Europe, the protestant and catholic countries'.

..But it also includes at least a book, Silver Wolf , set in Rome at the time of Charlemagne and another, Lavinia, set in pre-Roman Italy. It looks like Italy moved while I wasn't looking...

It is a pet peeve of mine, but my hackles rise really fast when people manipulate data like...,you know, geographical and cultural boundaries, because they don't fit the theory (European settings must be stale and overdone, so let's mutilate Europe of anything that hasn't already been done to death), besides, as many have said better than me, most of what generally passes for 'Standard European Setting' is McFantasyland, a bland, flavorless pap of uncertain composition.

So I'd like to start a list of mine: speculative fiction set in Europe-inspired or European settings written by Europeans (Europe , not the EU, both female and male authors, if dead, deceased not earlier than 20 years ago )
suggestions are welcome.

Ben  Aaronovitch

Sarah Ash

Petros Ambatzoglou

Pierre Bordage

Maite Carranza

Mike Carey

Mark Chadbourn

Susanna Clarke

Michael Ende

Valerio Evangelisti

Alan Garner

Kerstin Gier

Markus Heitz

Paul Hoffman

Wolfgang Hohlbein

Ju Honisch

Rhys Hughes

Tanith Lee

Stanisław Lem

Suzanne McLeod

Sergei Vasilievich Lukyanenko

Stan Nicholls

Milorad Pavić

Pierre Pevel

Otfried Preußler

Cecilia Randazzo (aka Cecilia Randall)

Jessica Rydill

Andrzej Sapkowski

Ekaterina Sedia

Johanna Sinisalo

Kari Sperring

Jonathan Stroud

Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson

Licia Troisi

Freda Warrington

Diana Wynne Jones
But this time the whole ballad...

木 兰 辞
Mulan ci

Jiji fu jiji, Mulan dang hu zhi.
Bu wen jizhu sheng, wei wen nü danxi.
Wen nü he suo si? Wen nü he suo yi?
Nü yi wu suo si, Nü yi wu suo yi.
Zuoye jian juntie, kehan da dian bin,
Jun shu shier juan, juan juan you ye ming.
Ah ye wu da er, Mulan wu zhang xiong.
Yuan wei shi an ma, cong ci ti ye zheng.

Dong shi mai junma, xi shi mai an jian,
nan shi mai peitou, bei shi mai chang bian.

Read more... )

marina_bonomi: (book)
This is another of my favorite Chinese poems (actually the first stanza, but I want to translate it in full).

It is older than the Tang, in fact it dates from the Northen Wei dinasty (386-534 AD) although the original collection it was part of is lost, and the ballad survived in another, much later, opus. I find it remarkable in many ways.

木 兰 辞
Mulan ci

Jiji fu jiji, Mulan dang hu zhi.
Bu wen jizhu sheng, wei wen nü danxi.
Wen nü he suo si? Wen nü he suo yi?
Nü yi wu suo si, Nü yi wu suo yi.
Zuoye jian juntie, kehan da dian bin,
Jun shu shier juan, juan juan you ye ming.
Ah ye wu da er, Mulan wu zhang xiong.
Yuan wei shi an ma, cong ci ti ye zheng.

The Ballad of Mulan

Whirr-clack and again whirr-clack, Mulan weaves facing the door.

(But now) no sound from the loom is heard, only (our) daughter’s sighs.

“ Daughter, what are you thinking of? What are you brooding over?”

Nothing I’m thinking of, nothing I’m brooding over.

Yestereve I saw the army register, the Khan is levying the troops.

The register is twelve scrolls, each one bears father’s name.

Father has no first-born son, Mulan has no elder brother.

I wish to buy horse and saddle, soldiering in father’s stead.

Mulan is an enormously popular character in Chinese folklore, it all started from this ballad, composed about 1500 years ago. From here came a novel written during the Ming dinasty, more poems, theatrical plays, TV series, live-action movies and cartoons, including the Disney one that gave Mulan popularity in the West (the downside of it is that many schoolchildren over here think Disney invented Mulan).

I liked the Disney movie for many reasons, and honestly I don't mind the chronological mish-mash overmuch, after all in China beloved stories are told and retold and undergo many transformations, so long as the 'layering' is evident and the different strata are there if one digs, I have no problems with the process.

But I like the original better, and some of the reasons are right there in the first stanza. For starters, Mulan is no freak: no girl out of place trying to conform to the norms of society and failing. She enters the scene fulfilling the expected duty of an unmarried daughter, weaving for the family, but is pondering on a problem,the call to arms her family cannot answer, and comes up with her own solution.

Mulan doesn't steal out of the house during the night. She has a plan and executes it with the full knowledge and consent of her parents. The Northern Wei was a troubled time, historians say that it's very likely that women (specifically in Northern China where the ballad originated) received weapon training as a matter of course, in Wei statuary there are images of female warriors. So why is she passing herself off as a man? I think (and it's all speculation on my part, mind you) that it may depend on a technicality.
The ballad says that the army scrolls bear father's name and also  Father has no first-born son, Mulan has no elder brother, my guess is that a son could fulfill his father's duty if the latter was incapacitated but there was no written rule about a daughter doing the same, so Mulan assumes a man's identity (later works say she takes her younger brother's name) to avoid a possible refusal.

marina_bonomi: (book)
The other day, February the 7th, was Charles Dickens' birthday, While I was driving to work, listening to the radio as usual, this quote from Pictures of Italy was read. It is still relevant as it was back then.

(...)let us part from Italy, with all its miseries and wrongs, affectionately, in our admiration of the beauties, natural and artificial, of which it is full to overflowing, and in our tenderness towards a people, naturally well-disposed, and patient, and sweet-tempered. Years of neglect, oppression, and misrule, have been at work, to change their nature and reduce their spirit; miserable jealousies, fomented by petty Princes to whom union was destruction, and division strength, have been a canker at their root of nationality, and have barbarized their language; but the good that was in them ever, is in them yet, and a noble people may be, one day, raised up from these ashes. Let us entertain that hope!

marina_bonomi: (book)
I have already mentioned Aliette de Bodard's Mexica trilogy, Obsidian and Blood and how much I like it. At long last I made some quiet time to read madame de Bodard's latest offering Scattered Along the River of Heaven published in the latest issue of Clarkesworld Magazine.
If you haven't already read it I urge you to click the link and do so, you won't regret it.

The story succeds in bringing us to different worlds and through a few decades just in about 7000 words, and which words are those! What it is about? Language, heritage, history and how it gets twisted by politics, revolutionary heroes who become unconfortable reminders of betrayed or lost or just non-practical ideals and so are better kept out of sight, culturally imposed strictures we aren't even really aware of and the limitations they bring, missed opportunities...all in a mix of prose and poetry that will be familiar to the lovers of haibuns or (even more) classical Chinese literature.

All that might make you think that the story is confusing, sentimental or maudlin. Nothing could be more off: there isn't a word out of place in Scattered Along the River of Heaven, it is as sharp, clear and elegant as a jade sword.



March 2013

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