Friday, April 22, 2005

Depressing stories

I had a late lunch date with a friend who's in town for a couple of weeks; I assumed she'd be late ('cos she usually is), so I dived into the library on the way and pulled a book off the Readers' Picks shelf. Just in case she was half an hour late or something.

The book was The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck. The title sounded familiar, like maybe it was prize-winningly famous or something. And I am often drawn to stories set in Chinese environments. (I can never quite relate to domestic tales about middle-class white people).

But I just had a look at a couple of Amazon reviews, and I realise now that I've probably chosen a typically depressing Chinese story. Let me give you an idea of how depressing it's gonna be: the hero is a poor farmer who wants to marry and produce an heir. The only way he can afford to marry a virgin is by purchasing a very ugly slave girl from a wealthy landowner, because all the pretty ones have already been "had" by men in the landowner's family. So he does. And apparently somewhere along the line this wife ends up killing her newborn daughter in order for her other children to live.

Is it really that hard to write a story set in China which has a happy ending?

8 comments:

The Editter said...

Have you read The Good Women of China (I think that's the title) by Xinran? Not that it's an example of Chinese stories with happy endings... but an amazing book nonetheless.

And I just saw Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress for the first time, which I think had a happy ending, despite some pretty depressing aspects to the story (not surprisingly, seeing as it was set in a re-education camp during the Cultural Revolution).

Ms Mac said...

I have often wondered that myself. If you find one, please let me know!

Ps.Was your friend late, after all?

glomgold said...

You have to die for the country to be a hero in China right? Maybe I'm seeing a trend here.

Make Tea Not War said...

I think I might have read a moderately cheerful book by Pearl S Buck. Set in the early part of last century a quite traditional Chinese woman marries a man who is relatively Europeanised. They have a lot of problems in their relationship but eventually they fall in love and she stops binding her feet and starts relating to him in a non submissive way.

Unfortunately I don't remember the name of the book and I can't remember how it ended. It may have been in tragedy, afterall...

Violet said...

It's a bit of a a page-turner after all, despite the fact that all the girl children are referred to as "slaves" and the young family's fortune dipped from prosperity to near-starvation within the first couple of chapters.

I haven't yet read The Good Women of China, but I did see Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress which I found quite sad too.

As for my friend - I was gobsmacked when I got to the cafe and she was already there! Though not as surprised as she was, to find out I was having a baby (I think she forgot we'd told her already).

happyandblue2 said...

Couldn't you just read a story about a domestic white family and pretend they are Chinese..

lbp said...

I just read an amazing essay by a Chinese writer, Lu Xun (This too is Life). His writing also resonates a sad tone of pain and tragedy. In fact, now that I think about it, I haven't read any chinese literature that wasn't dark.

Violet said...

happyandblue: no, because the family dynamics are completely different.

lbp: thats what people say about NZ cinema. Perhaps NZ film-makers would be quite good at translating Chinese stories onto film...