Warning: Do not attempt to consume this little novel in a short period of time! Contrary to the small physical size of this book this is not a brief story. Rather, it is a wondrous little tome that blends Eastern vantage and culture with Western philosophy and becomes a multifacted gem reflecting on life, death, love, passion, and sex. I am reminded of my wonder that MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA was written by a man, so much of the feminine mysticism permeated every page. This story is so convincingly related by a gay man who is in conflict with his Taiwan society, Chinese heritage, his views of homosexual life and love, that the reader is repeatedly taken by surprise that such personal, male perceptions are being written by a woman; the book FEELS as though it is a first person male narration. A Theme and Variations on the contemporary struggle to find meaning, this author amazes in the sensitive explorations of Levi Strauss, Michel Foucault, as well as excursions in to the arts, the skill and pain of Nijinsky's life, Bach's music , Greek mythology - an almost endless stream of consciousness of universal themes. And yet the characters remain well drawn, credible, sympathetic. I found that when the words started to wander away from me, losing linear direction of narration, I had to re-read some parts before diving back in to the flood of the incredible wealth of ideas being offered. I am not able to read the original Chinese, but if these two translators have the author's blessing we are in the presence of a unique, valuable voice. Reward yourself with this challenging book. You will be the richer for it.
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About the reviewer
Grady Harp (gradyharp)
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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"I am a sick man ... I am a spiteful man," cries the narrator of Dostoyevsky'sNotes from the Underground. The narrator of Chu Tien-Wen'sNotes of a Desolate Manmight amend that to "I am not a sick man ... but I am by no means well." Xiao Shao has reached the age of 40 only to feel that his life has run its course. His close childhood friend has recently succumbed to AIDS, and while he remains "unbelievably, amazingly" free from infection, Ah Yao's death has sent him spiraling into depression. Like Dostoyevsky's hero, Xiao suffers from a profound alienation--as a Chinese deeply engaged with Western thought, as a gay man still coming to terms with his sexuality, and, by extension, as a Taiwanese citizen both cut off from and bound to the mainland. T'ien-Wen's narrative intercuts his reflections on the nature of desire with ruminations on culture both high and low--from Fellini and Goethe to Michael Jackson and Barbra Streisand. The result is a remarkable chronicle of life on the artistic, political, and sexual margins. A 1994 winner of the China Times Novel Prize, this dense, intelligent, deliberately paced novel is no less insightful for having been written not by a gay man, but by a woman: an author of 15 previous books and one of Taiwan's leading intellectuals. Her convincing account of Xiao's inner life is a testament to the powers of the creative imagination to transcend difference.--Chloe Byrne