The Boat to Redemption Hardcover – 1 Jan 2010
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"Su Tong writes beautiful, dangerous prose" (Meg Wolitzer)
"What I admire most is Su Tong's style...His strokes are restrained but merciless. He is a true literary talent" (Anchee Min)
"Powerful and elegant ...the world he so vividly depicts has the timelessness of a classical Chinese court painting" (Independent)
"There is something soothing and insistent about the sound and feel of Su Tong's writing.Chinese customs and characters make the mood strange and different....Language, its feel and construction, flows like the river into the reader's imagination... [More] twists, turns and tragedies hold the reader's attention right to the end. The writing is superb, the word pictures of the river and its people memorable. And Yes, it could make great cinema" (Sunday Express)
The major achievement of this novel is Su Tong's decision to forgo his strength as a prose stylist and settle for a familiar story told in a familiar language. Despite the tendency of the younger generation to dismiss the cultural revolution as a bygone era, this recent past, with its cruelties and absurdities, still lives in the nation's memory.
At his best, Su Tong is able to catch the tragedy and comedy of that time, using a highly political language: when the birthmark on Ku Wenxue's bottom disqualifies him as the martyr's son, the whole town goes through a craze of examining one another's bottoms in the toilets of municipal baths, while Dongliang, our private and sensitive narrator, reports, "I tightened my belt and heightened my vigilance," - a line that playfully combines two slogans from Mao's era.
Dialogues filled with political clichés of the time are the highlight of the novel. In an extremely poignant exchange - both tragic and absurd - towards the end of the novel, the narrator, in order to steal the martyr's memorial stone, has a long argument with the town's idiot, who has for decades considered himself to be the real son of the martyr.
From the iconic Chinese author of Raise The Red Lantern and winner of the Man Asia literary prize 2009.See all Product description
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The main theme of the book is the relationship between Dongliang and his father. It is essentially a coming of age story showing how hard it is to adjust to adulthood, but although it is a very Chinese novel, similar in style to Brothers, the themes of love, heartache and fear are universal.
The book was interesting at the beginning, but the pace was quite slow. It picked up at is progressed and by the half way stage I was captivated - the characters were fascinating and so different from those in Western novels as their superstitions and respect for authority add a different dimension to their problems.
I don't have a big knowledge of Chinese culture and so I felt that some things went over my head - there were several points where there appeared to be a wise saying, but it didn't translate well into English. This wasn't because of a translation problem (I think Howard Goldblatt did a great job) but because there wasn't an equivalent phrase in English.
`If your mother finds you, then you'll be a drowned ghost too, with moss growing all over your body.'
As with many other Chinese novels there was an obsession with genitalia in this book. I found that some of the scenes put me off my food for a few hours, but there was no explicit sex or extreme violence, so most people will cringe rather than be offended.
I'm sure that this book would be even more impressive if read in the Chinese, but even with a limited knowledge of the culture there is still a lot to enjoy.
Recommended to fans of Chinese literature.
The political and economic aspects of the story are rather more of a subtext over which there is a gripping narrative with distinct characters who often fall on the side of good or evil, with little down the middle. Your emphathetic alliegences will flip between the main characters as a result of numerous conflicts and tragedies that occur throughout the story.
There is one rather unpleasant scene which might turn the stomach. The violence isn't particularly prolonged, but it is as key to the plot as it is unpleasant so it is by no means gratuitous.
Superstition, corruption, injustice and destitution are key facets of a story line which on the whole translates well into English and is one of the best novels I've read for a while. The common dialogue is sharp and cutting with few pleasantries (one particular trait of the chinese language) but this is offset with much richer proverbs and stories of martyrs that are managable and kept relevant.