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domenica 19 febbraio 2012


Last night I finished reading 1Q84, book 3. The web is already full of interesting reviews and guidelines, so this post is simply meant as a sketch of my thoughts and feelings about this rich novel by one of my favourite writers. And those who haven't read the book shouldn't read this post. :)

So, here are my impressions about 1Q84, just as they freely pop up in my mind (I've been ill for some days now, my back is aching badly and writing leisurely is a compromise between writing a proper review and not writing at all, because I wanted to write as soon as possible after reading the book).

I read book 1 and 2 in Italian, enjoyed them so much I ordered book 3 in English so I would have it ready to read. Book 3 is going to be published in Italian in almost a year, and waiting that long was out of the question. I got a feeling of "disconnection" between the end of book 2 and the beginning of book 3, and I think the Italian translation sounds much better. Of course I have no idea how the original sounds, and that's an enormous pity (I have a Japanese course book but it will take quite a long while before I can read a novel....). So I was somehow taken aback by this feeling and I couldn't get into book 3 as eagarly as I had expected.

I was a little disappointed that, after cherishing each other for 20 years and feeding their love on a single, strong memory, Tengo and Aomame met through Tamaru's intervention. It felt less magic. I missed the melancholic and so beautiful atmosphere of Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. That world stays forever, time passes and after reading many other books I still feel it with same intensity. To my personal experience, 1Q84 felt complex, perfectly elaborated and constructed, but weaker than hard-boiled Wonderland or Kafka on the Shore. The very first book I read by Murakami was South of the Border, west of the Sun, a book I loved when I first read it as a teenager and that I read and loved many more times and still love now at 30. That is quintessential Murakami for me, and wonderful writing. Though there are no different worlds in the technical sense of the expression, there are actually two worlds: the life we live, and the life we might have lived, and meeting a particular person can make these two delicate worlds collide and none of them will ever be the same again. They will be both filled with a melancholic love, a nostalgia for lost treasures that is so painful and can change the colours and shades of living. In 1Q84 I missed this feeling that I often (always) found and loved in his books, and that made me feel at home in his books. I liked the Cat Town story very much, and the time Tengo spent by his father's side. If this were the first book I read by Murakami, I would probably think it's simply wonderful, but having read almost all his other books I can't help making comparisons and realizing I liked other novels more, in many ways. I also have to say that I liked book 1 and 2 much more than book 3. Book 1 and 2 were hard to close, I just couldn't stop reading, no matter how late at night it was and how early I had to get up in the morning. In book 3 this eagerness was much faded, and this fact certainly lowered my general feeling about the book. So I can say I liked book 1 and 2 very much, almost as much as some of his previous novels, and I liked book 3 less, and I don't don't know how much of this depends on the translation.

These were just quick impressions. When I feel better I will write a proper review....

sabato 4 febbraio 2012

Farewell My Concubine

Farewell My Concubine is a complex film that follows the lives of two theatre actors spanning 53 yaers of Chinese history. It won the prestigious Cannes award ex aequo with another wonderful film: The Piano, by Jane Campion, in 1993.

In 1924 Beijing, a desperate woman leaves her child at a small acting troupe in order to grant him a future. The child, Douzi, finds himself in a harsh, cold environment, where young boys are taught to act pieces from the Beijing Opera through obsessive training and hard physical punishments. As Douzi gets closer and closer to another boy in the school, Shitou, it becomes clear that both are particularly talented and they will grow up as major opera stars.
Their warm friendship soon begins to resemble a shy, devoted love, especially on the part of Douzi. (There are scenes of unforgettable tenderness between the two of them, especially considering the cold, violent environment they live in). Douzi and Shitou, later known as Chen Dieyi and Duan Xiaolou, are inseparable, until Juxian comes into their lives. From that point on, everything seems to fall apart: the relationship between the two actors is irretrievably poisoned, while, on a broader level, we see China go through dark moments of its history.

The film is neatly divided into 8 chapters, including two 1977 moments that open and close the story. Each chapter focuses on a different era in Chinese history while depicting the lives of the characters. In this way the lives of Dieyi and Xiaolou are set against the backdrop of the Japanese invasion of China, the Cultural Revolution, and the Communist takeover.

Dieyi, wonderfully played by Leslie Cheung, is a truly fascinating character. He is innocent and oppressed by a huge love he seems unable to manage, especially after Juxian comes along. His gender identity is unclear, and also his sense of reality outside theatre seems unstable. His mother was a prostitute who abandoned him, he was raped by a disgusting old men in his adolescence, he was forced to act feminine roles to the point of forgetting his real identity and he is homosexual in a strongly repressive environment. All this merges to create a fascinating character in which almost everyone can somehow recognize themselves,because I think everyone, more or less consciously and, of course, without experiencing the same traumatic events, has gone through moments of identity crisis, or felt betrayed, or unable to express and share a love they were forced to keep inside. In this way, Farewell My Concubine is both a detailed historical film and a strongly intimate one.

In the book on which the film is based the character of Juxian is far less important, while the love relation between Dieyi and Xiaolou is more explored. I think this makes much more sense, especially considering that Chen Kaige, when asked why he made this choice, he simply answered that, if you work with such a "diva" as Gong Li, you can't have her play a minor role. I think giving Gong Li a smaller part, that is remaining closer to the novel's plot, would have made the film even more beautiful, but this is just my personal feeling about it.

There are very violent scenes, especially in the beginning, with a particularly disturbing quality about them. My knowledge of the immense and multifaceted Chinese culture is too limited to comment on this point, but I can say in some moments I got the same feeling I get reading Mo Yan.
There's a wide selection of studies on violence in Chinese culture, and this collection of essays seems to be particularly interesting: Violence in China: essays in culture and counterculture, by Jonathan Neaman Lipman. The essays try to answer this intriguing question: "Why does a culture that condemns violence [...], and seeks harmony over all other values, in fact display such frequency and variety of violent behaviour, that is, of the use of physical force against persons"? I don't know if this book is a reliable source on the subject, but it is at least an interesting read.