Sunday, August 26, 2018

Han Suyin: A Many-Splendoured Thing

Found the Finnish translation (Päivien kimallus) of this romantic semi-autobiographical novel at my mother's villa. It's part of a collection of books inherited from my great-aunt, who traveled the world extensively in her younger years.
A Many-Splendoured Thing was authored by Han Suyin, which was the pen name of Elisabeth Comber who, not to make things too simple, was born Rosalie Matilda Kuanghu Chou. She was born in China to a Flemish mother and a Chinese father. The book deals extensively with her identity in between cultures as an Eurasian and describes life in Hong Kong during the Communist takeover in mainland China. The plot itself is a bitter-sweet love story of Han's relationship with a married British journalist, Mark. Han's sympathies with the communists are quite clear from the book and apparently earned her a lot of criticism.
For me, the biggest merit of the book was its description of life in Hong Kong, and the city itself in the late forties and early fifties, as well as the peek into old Chinese society in transition in Chong Qing. Han's style is not unlike Hemingway's in his description of life in Paris in A Moveable Feast. The story itself is a bit too syrupy for my taste. It was a best-seller in its time, though, so if you like a romantic story, give it a try. It was even made into a Hollywood movie shortly after its release.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

. Erika Fatland: Sovjetstan

Picked up two excellent finds during a high way pit stop at a gas station's discount bookstore. A reprint of Kaj Donner's Among the Samoyed in Siberia (earlier reviewed here) and the Finnish translation of Erika Fatland's more recent book about the post-Soviet Central Asian states. Norwegian social anthropologist and writer Erika Fatland has earlier written about the Beslan massacre in North Ossetia.

Her most recent book is titled Sovjetstan and recounts her two journeys to the old Sovjet republics of Central Asia: Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tadjikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The book is written in classical travel literature style and succeeds in capturing the mood, ethnic tensions and day to day life in the different countries. There are not that many books about the Central Asian states (check Amazon if you don't believe me), so it's great to see a recent, well written travelogue. Fatland's writing, analysis and dry humor go beyond a superficial description and she draws on her background in anthropology and knowledge of Russia. Her style is reminiscent of one of the masters of the trade, Colin Thubron. The book seems to be available in several European languages, but apparently not yet in English. Hopefully this is corrected soon, because Fatland's writing should have universal appeal to arm chair travelers and geography buffs alike.