Start in the Red Chamber?
July 16, 2008 7:17 AM   Subscribe

I want to take the opportunity of an upcoming holiday to take on some challenging reading, I'd really like to try some classical oriental literature but I dont really know where to start. It has to be portable (single paperback volume) suitably annotated and, importantly, readable! I've been recommended The Dream of the Red Chamber but I dont which edition to get or if this is a good choice. Any suggestions would be welcome!
posted by BadMiker to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
David Hawkes' translation (with John Minford doing the Gao E parts) for Penguin Classics is the English-language version, and don't listen to anyone who tells you different. Others may explicate the odd detail he glosses; only he gives you the spirit of the original.
posted by Abiezer at 7:33 AM on July 16, 2008

I have no idea how challenging it is, but I have seen The Tale of Genji recommended on many sites that I read that are related to Japanese culture and history. Written by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady in the Heian court of eleventh-century Japan, it is regarded by many to be one of the first novels ever written.

I was going to purchase it last week for some light summer reading. I picked it up off the shelf and paged through it a bit and realized that it didn't quite fit the "light reading" category. This excerpt from the Amazon description makes me think that it is going to take some concentration to get through:

Supplemented with detailed notes, glossaries, character lists, and chronologies to help the reader navigate the multigenerational narrative, this comprehensive edition presents this ancient tale in the grand style that it deserves.
posted by bristolcat at 7:52 AM on July 16, 2008

Also, it isn't exactly Oriental nor challenging, but if you are interested in historic literature, The Literature of Ancient Egypt was fairly compelling when I bought it a number of years ago.
posted by bristolcat at 7:58 AM on July 16, 2008

Rickshaw by Lao She

(not Rickshaw Boy)
posted by silkygreenbelly at 8:29 AM on July 16, 2008

I really enjoyed reading The Tale of the Heike.
posted by pombe at 10:06 AM on July 16, 2008

Dream of the Red Chamber is one of the "Four Great Classical Novels" of Chinese literature (see Wikipedia for a full rundown). I had a professor who wasn't so keen on it; he was fond of saying that it was full of "endless quotidian detail". It's the most recent (and thereby least classical) of the four, if that matters to you.

I'd also encourage you not to limit yourself to massive works of fiction. There's a wealth of great classical short stories out there, as well as classical poetry.

While I can't go so far as to recommend particular translations of particular works (it's been a few years since I read any of this, and the particular editions I read now escape me), I would say that it can be very interesting/instructive to read more than one translation. Naturally, this would work better with short works, since the prospect of reading even one translation of one of the massive great novels is daunting on its own. It's especially interesting when reading poetry, where the vast linguistic divide and more stylized form allow for a lot of different interpretations.
posted by sinfony at 11:16 AM on July 16, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all, your advice is much appreciated. Good recom mendations are as rare as good books!
posted by BadMiker at 3:27 PM on July 16, 2008

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