Tuesday, August 31, 2010
The throbbing beat of flamenco guitars and the clicking of castanets resound as readers peruse the pages of this epic history. Founded as an encampment by Roman invaders around 210 B.C. , Barcelona passed through centuries of strife until it reached its ``Golden Age'' between the years 1850 and 1925; it is on this era that Hughes focuses. Aficianados of his descriptive, colorful prose style from such bestsellers as The Fatal Shore (Random, 1988) and The Shock of the New (McGraw, 1981) will not be disappointed with this work, and students of architecture will be especially pleased with the author's detailed comparisons of the city's varied structural styles.
BALZAC and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
The Cultural Revolution of Chairman Mao Zedong altered Chinese history in the 1960s and '70s, forcibly sending hundreds of thousands of Chinese intellectuals to peasant villages for "re-education." This moving, often wrenching short novel by a writer who was himself re-educated in the '70s tells how two young men weather years of banishment, emphasizing the power of literature to free the mind. Sijie's unnamed 17-year-old protagonist and his best friend, Luo, are bourgeois doctors' sons, and so condemned to serve four years in a remote mountain village, carrying pails of excrement daily up a hill. Only their ingenuity helps them to survive. The two friends are good at storytelling, and the village headman commands them to put on "oral cinema shows" for the villagers, reciting the plots and dialogue of movies. When another city boy leaves the mountains, the friends steal a suitcase full of forbidden books he has been hiding, knowing he will be afraid to call the authorities. Enchanted by the prose of a host of European writers, they dare to tell the story of The Count of Monte Cristo to the village tailor and to read Balzac to his shy and beautiful young daughter. Luo, who adores the Little Seamstress, dreams of transforming her from a simple country girl into a sophisticated lover with his foreign tales.