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Link to our thread on the Nobel Prize for Literature, where Mo Yan comes up. With the semester winding down, I'm starting to think that some pleasure reading might not be a bad thing. And, since I was at the CEA conference in Indianapolis this weekend, I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Mo Yan's Frog (I have Big Breasts and Wide Hips on my Kindle, but haven't read it yet). Then I came across this piece at The Millions, which doesn't do the translation any favors--but which does have some stuff to say about the problems of translating from Chinese into English: --any input or argument from the linguists on this board would be interesting here.
Here it is, my first novel of the year. Or, rather, sequence of novellas: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. When I first started reading this book, I wasn’t sure that I would like it. The first volume in the trilogy, City of Glass, I found to be almost too accessible — that is, it does all the standard postmodern things where the narrator meets the author, others doubling, there is an obsessive focus on details like red notebooks etc. etc. etc. And that’s all fine. But my issue with it was that it seemed to not resolve — that it seemed to go through all the tricks without actually delivering on anything impactful. I was left wondering if there was anything worth going on about. The second volume in the trilogy, Ghosts, I found somewhat more satisfying, though again I wondered whether or not I was going to wind up liking this book. Basically, Ghosts repeats the plotline of the first novella: an investigator (named Blue here) follows a possibly-unsuspecting person (Black) around New York City. There's lots of metafictional stuff, references to Thoreau and Whitman and Hawthorne, etc etc etc. And then we get to the third book, The Locked Room. And all of the obsessive themes of the first two volumes are crystallized around a story that is in fact fairly emotionally resonant— it goes for a much more humane sort of story, one that’s less focused on simply being full of clever tricks and more focused on explaining how those clever tricks work from a psychological perspective. The Locked Room folds the previous two novellas into itself and invests them, retrospectively, with much more heft than they have on first reading. And what that means is I love this book. All the bits snap into place and the work becomes truly meaningful, truly interesting, and truly gripping. For what it’s worth I read this book over the course of a week — not because I found it uninteresting. I read the first volume on a Sunday. After that things happened and I was a little bit less inclined to read so I read the second volume — which is substantially shorter — over the course of two days. And then today I went to a house that I’m housesitting and I read the entirety of the final volume. It's that easy to read, and that gripping. So--supposing I'm thinking of reading some more Auster in the summer--where should I go from here? I'm drawn to Timbuktu for reasons that are wholly unliterary: the book gets a shout-out in a song: --but I'm open to other suggestions. Meantime, here's one of many Auster interviews on YouTube: