Monday, 2 October 2017

Pot of Poetry: Artichoke

It has been months I guess since my last post. I hate it that I haven't been able to post articles more often. However, I would like to share with you one rather short poem that touches my heart the moment I read it. It is called "Artichoke" by Joseph Hutchinson.

O heart weighed down by so many wings!
That's it. Just one line, but it says much more than that to me.

An artichoke is but an artichoke. But put down like this, it reminds me of Wordsworth's sonnet which talks about poor souls "who have felt the weight of too much liberty", which argues that too much freedom doesn't do us good and certainly doesn't make us happier. Having rules up to some points gives a sense of security. Having none gives a sense of uncertainty. Well, too many "wings" can wear us down.

Also for me, it sounds like someone being too tired because he has so many things to do, and he has so many things to do because he can do it. Because he has the "wings" to do it. In fact, your talent, your skills, your knowledge, and your abilities can be a deadly trap that enslaves you.

The moment I read this poem, I don't even think about artichokes anymore.


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Off the Shelves: Nirvana in Fire vs. The Count of Monte Cristo

Firstly, it has been a while. I know. Looking at my blog and noticing that my last post was February last year gave me a shudder. So sorry about this. Again, in my defense, it's not that I have stopped reading, it's just that I don't really have any time to write about them. Besides, unless no one will complain about it, I can't really fangirl about the same thing again and again on this blog, right?

Second, I actually want to insert this post under "Books on Screen" category. However, seeing that it is not actually and adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo but rather an adaptation from a novel of the same name, I can't really do that, can I?

So here we go.


Nirvana in Fire is a Chinese drama based on a novel with (let's way) the same title. The story is about the only survival of a whole family who was convicted of treason and exterminated who carries out his plan to avenge the dead and restore the reputation of his family and friends. This drama is so full of intrigue and emotion, politic and friendship, and through this drama, we see people with amazing personality, that make us love them despite their flaws. It has been quite a while since last I watched anything as amazing plot-wise. But we're not talking about this. 

When I started watching this drama episode by episode, it dawned on me that the story - even the character - seemed very familiar to me. It's exactly The Count of Monte Cristo, and it's not just the revenge part.

The Plot

In Monte Cristo, the story started when Edmond Dantes was imprisoned for years for something he didn't do. In Nirvana in Fire, Lin Shu's whole family was accused of treason and killed while in fact, guess what, they had nothing to do with it. 

Edmond Dantes then returned from what he described as hell as The Count of Monte Cristo, a wealthy nobleman whose origin is mysterious and intriguing. Just as Lin Shu who returned from a literal burning battlefield as Mei Changsu/Su Zhe, a powerful leader of Jiangzhou Alliance - the most powerful and resourceful Jianghu sect in the country. 

Then, step by step, Edmond Dantes executed a well-prepared plan, using everything and every one around him taking revenge on the people who had made him suffer until his conscience couldn't handle it anymore. In almost the same manner, Lin Shu executed a well-prepared plan to help his childhood friend and an unfavoured Prince to ascend the throne while taking care of those who stood in his way to readdress the case that got his family and friends killed. 

In the end, both Edmond Dantes and Lin Shu chose to disappear, though in a different way. In the end, they left people they loved after making sure that things would be fine for them. 

Characters

Let's get to the character. 

Monte Cristo is always described as a cold, vampire-like human being. His calm, poised, and genteman-like manner is his charm and his best disguise. That is definitely not the cheerful, open, and warm Edmond Dantes when he was just about to marry and become a captain of a ship. 
Edmond Dantes, Chinese Version

Mei Changsu is pretty much the same. Described as someone with "manners as cold as snow, like a dark fragrance fluttering on the river," he was no less a vampire than Monte Cristo. Being constantly sick, he had a pale and weakly complexion, but his mind was never sharper. Not even his closest friend could recognize him as the former Lin Shu, a smart, naughty General with amazing martial art and strategy. 

Add to that the similarity in the way people treat them. As a count, Monte Cristo was served in a most satisfactory manner one could imagine. People came and did things he'd want them to do without even asking because "they knew his preference." Because of his charm, riches, and personality, even his enemies were forced to treat him with courtesy. Mei Changsu, being a sect leader, had people waiting on him to care for his every need. These people genuinely cared for him, and tried their best to make his life as comfortable as possible.

If Monte Cristo had Ali, the mute Nubian, Changsu had Fei Liu, a kid with extraordinary martial art skill. Monte Cristo's Bertuccio is pretty much Changsu's Li Gang and Zhen Ping. In place of sweet and exotic Haidee, there's Gong Yu, an accomplished songstress with one sided love for Changsu. 

Let's move on to the villains. You won't believe me, even the villains are similar. 

First there's Xie Yu, Nirvana in Fire's version of Fernand Mondego (is it his name?) or Comte de Morcerf. Ambitious and cunning, with personal envy towards Lin Shu's father, he plotted to get rid of him and stationed himself as the king's trusted advisor. Not just that, his child Jingrui "accidentally" met Changsu and they became friends, just so that Changsu could use him to move his plans forward. Sounds familiar? Yes, I am thinking about you, Albert. 

Then there's Xia Jiang, another trusted subject of the king. He was famous for being just, disciplinary, rigid in his obedience to the law, etc. His was the head of the king's private intelligence bureau and never once broke his trust. However, he was the main instigator of the "treason case" that led Lin Shu's family and friends to their death. So, in short, he is Villefort. Also, his conversation with Mei Changsu actually reminds me of the conversation that Villefort and Monte Cristo had in the book. 

Difference?

One big difference between the two is actually the ladies.

In the Count of Monte Cristo, the ladies don't give too much impression at all, right? Unless when they are, as Monte Cristo (actually Shakespeare) said, frail. Mercedes was reprimanded for being fickle in her affection, the Madames of the other two families didn't fare much better. If there are praiseworthy ladies in the book, they are only Haidee and Valentine - both young and sweet, with happy ending. 

I waited 12 years for him, Mercedes

In Nirvana in Fire, the ladies have strong presence and personalities. Some of them waited or mourned for they people they loved for more than a decade. The main female character is a general with an army of her own, able to physically and mentally support her beloved ones. Another is a mother and doctor, with wisdom to keep herself and her son out of danger. There's also a scary one, playing a strategist for the other party.

But the biggest and the most important difference for me lies in the motive of the main character. In Monte Cristo, the main purpose of the main character is to avenge himself and to bring justice to people who had made him suffer. In Nirvana in Fire, to my surprise, the motive is pretty far from that. The main character even let one of the perpetrators go because revenge is not his goal. In the end, what he wanted is just for his family and friends' name to be restored, and his country to return to its glory. 

Heroic.

I am not saying that I love one more than the other. As I have said somewhere in this blog before, Monte Cristo is one of the books that changed me. I will always treasure it. Nevertheless, it's interesting to see the story told in another setting and another culture. 

By the way, I highly recommend Nirvana in Fire for those who like Monte Cristo. If you can stand watching 54 episodes of Chinses drama, that is. 

Monday, 15 February 2016

A Little Princess: What Makes a Real Princess?

Long time no see. Let's not get there. *sob internally*

I have long wanted to review a book I read some months ago. It's another book by ‎Frances Hodgson Burnett. After my experience with her other children book, I expected a lot from A Little Princess - and the author surely delivers.

A Little Princess is about a girl named Sara Crewe. She was left at the boarding school of Miss Minchin by her beloved father. Thanks to her father's riches, her clever mind and lovely personality, her life in the boarding school was amazing. She was allowed to have a personal luxurious room, a maid, and a horse. She befriended many people, among them Ermengarde, Lottie, and Becky. She was hailed as a Princess and school, which she accepted gladly.

But her father's sudden death and business failures turned her life upside down. The Headmistress, who had long envied her and resented her, abused her - turning her into an unpaid maid and teacher-assistant. She was often left half-starved and cold in the attic, now serving as her room. Being all poor and lonely now, could she still be a princess? What makes a princess?
It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.
This book really brings me back to my childhood. I feel as if I were 7, and I can enjoy everything that Sara does and says in the book. Although written for kids, I am not ashamed to say that this book brought me to tears. Sara's struggle to stay strong, noble and kind under most trying circumstances really moves me. But do not think that she will be a Mary Sue - all kind and naive. On the contrary, Sara's personality is really believable.

The only downside that I can say of this book is its portrayal of foreigners. Some people may find it hard to let their kids read a book that describes people from India only as pagans and servants. But apart from that, I have nothing to complain.

Have you read A Little Princess? I would love to know your opinion on this book.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Literature and Translation - What would the world be without it?

What is the most translated book in the world? This far, I've never heard any dispute concerning The Bible as the most translated book ever in human history. Reaching a staggering number of more than 2800 languages in whole or in part, the Bible has no competitor in this regard. In fact, no book even get close to half of that number when it comes to translation.

Fragment of Septuagint, translation of Hebrew
Old Testament into Greek

Translating books is not something new. Take the Bible again. Even before A.D., the first portion of it had been translated into Greek for the sake of those who spoke the language better than Hebrew. The practice continued to our age. Here's an infographic by 7Brands containing 50 World's Most Translated Books.

But why? Why does it matter?

A very good reason is that not everybody speaks every language. Not everybody speaks good enough Russian to read Anna Karenina or enough French to enjoy Les Miserables. (To be honest, nobody enjoys Les Mis, it's too sad.) Even if someone speaks a language good enough to understand what it says, mother tongue usually speaks better to the heart.

Some people say, "I don't read translations." I'd like to say, I'm one of them. As long as I understand a language good enough to understand, I'd be happier reading it in its original language than in translation. Bad news is, I only speak my mother tongue and English good enough to read. So, when reading some of my favourite authors, I need to rely on translation. None of us can enjoy the rich variety of literature world without accepting translation.

The second reason is that we are the same species all over the world no matter what language we speak. We experience the same feelings of happiness, joy, sadness, disappointment, and pain. Sad to say, but we suffer the same problems: diseases, economical hardships, injustice, and so on. As much as language is no barrier to our being human, it shouldn't be a barrier to our literature that authentically portrays these things. As Victor Hugo said in his letter regarding Les Miserables translation to Italian: "books must cease to be exclusively French, Italian, German, Spanish, or English, and  become  European,  I  say  more,  human,  if  they  are  to correspond to the enlargement of civilization." Of course he gave his permission for the translation.

The world was glad he did. Can we even imagine what the world would be without translation of some of the best literature in human history?

For one, we wouldn't have Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus by William Shakespeare, because, although he had Latin education, he loved English so much he almost wouldn't touch anything but translation. Thanks to Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's Lives, we have them now. What would the world be without it? I wouldn't be able to insult people who 'speak Greek', and we wouldn't have a Japanese manga called "Salad Days".

Odysseus and the Sirens from Homer's Odyssey,
has been an inspiration for many other great works
Without translation of Homer's Odyssey, no man would imagine his ordinary life as a parallel of Odysseus's adventures as in James Joyce's Ulysses, nor can Tennyson motivate the elderly to try doing something great instead of wasting their time in their comfort zone. Besides, who would we call that submarine captain in Verne's 20000 Leagues under the Sea? Captain Nemo sounds a lot better than Captain Nobody.

If nobody translated Ovid and Homer, Shaw wouldn't write Pygmalion, and we won't have Audrey Hepburn singing My Fair Lady on the big screen. It's even possible that we'd lost some of the best films in the world. I mean, Disney's Hercules and its cute Hades, Troy with Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom in it, and of course, Percy Jackson.

Can we even think about a world without Grimm's Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Andersen's Stories? Half of Disney animations would be gone.

The world won't be the same place without literature translation. And I'm pretty sure, it won't be a better place without it.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Just a short notice

Hi, everybody. I feel so sad that I've not been able to blog as much as I used to. Right now I'm working on a post, but it's not yet ready. Also, I'll post  roundup for Play On Challenge real soon and check all entries for the challenge. Please bear with me.

Still happy and still reading. :D

Sunday, 5 April 2015

PLAY ON! April - Freebie Month (Yay!)

How do you like your plays this far? We have some exciting posts during the last months. I hope by now everybody has had his/her own favourite type of play.

So this month is the perfect time to show them off! There's no limit, nor boundary whatsoever for the play you want to read - as long as it is a play.

So, without further ado, let's begin!


Friday, 27 March 2015

Life is A Dream: When to Do What's Right?

Post-Renaissance. I didn't cheat. Haha.

But instead of taking Wilde or Shaw, I chose a new author: Pedro Calderón de la Barca. He is one of the most influential Spanish playwrights (which I didn't know before), and among his many plays, ths time I chose to read Life is A Dream - one of his finest works.

It's such a shame that I don't speak Spanish, so I was forced to choose a translation. At last, after considering whether I want to read in prose or poetry, I chose Denis Florence Mac-Carthy's translation, because that particular translation tries to use the original metre of the play. The result is a kind of play I've never read before.

Let's look at the plot first.

***

This play is about a man named Sigismund. He had been imprisoned and chained his whole life for the crime of "being born". No one knew that he was there, nobody visited him but a caretaker, Clotaldo, servant to the King of Poland.

However, one day, Rosaura, a lady dressed as man, and Clarin incidentally found the tower where he was kept. Rosaura was in search of a man who took her honour to avenge herself. Her mother gave her a sword, saying that someone among the nobles of Poland would prove to be her friend. Upon seeing the sword, Clotaldo recognised her as his son (he didn't know she was a woman), and took both Rosaura and Clarin to Court.

Meanwhile in court, Astolfo, Duke of Muscovy, was discussing with his cousin Estrella the prospect of ruling Poland together. Estrella didn't reject the idea of marriage with him altogether, but she was doubtful as to his fidelity, since she once saw him wearing a locket with a woman's picture inside. The King called them, and revealed that he in fact, had a son, locked and chained in a tower, because of a prophecy that he would kill his father and become a tyrant. The King felt guilty for trusting the prophecy too much, and decided to try his son's disposition, whether he would indeed be a good king or not.

Their plan was to sedate Sigismund and brought him into the palace. When he woke up, he was confused. Clotaldo revealed that he was actually a Prince and that the King wished to reinstate him.  Sigismund was furious. He couldn't forgive his father and everyone involved (including Clotaldo) for his suffering. When Astolfo, Estrella, and other Rosaura entered, he ended up offending almost everyone (except Rosaura I suppose). The king sedated him and he fell asleep.

Sigismund woke up in his prison again. Clotaldo convinced him that he was but dreaming, but added that even though it had been a dream, he should have done the right thing.

"For 'twere well, whoe'er we be,
Even in dreams to do what's right."

But then it turned out that the people didn't like the idea of being ruled by a foreigner (Astolfo). So they liberated Sigismund from prison, and made him their king. Rosaura, disappointed that her father didn't want to defend her honour, supported Sigismund. The army of the king, Estrella, and Astolfo was lost to the army of Sigismund. Instead of killing his father as prophesied, Sigismund forgave him and spared his life, along with Clotaldo's. The attractive Rosaura was reunited with her lover, Astolfo, who, although reluctant at first to marry a lowly girl, relented when Clotaldo revealed that she was her daughter. Sigismund himself married Estrella, and ruled as king, with the blessing of his father.

*****

For me, the play is really interesting. Plot-wise, like most plays, it's a bit complicated, but dialogue-wise, it's a gem. Sigismund is described as a philosophical character, who likes to know the meaning of his existence.

"Since man's greatest crime on earth
Is the fatal fact of birth - "

Another thing discussed in this play is the never-ending-problem of fate vs. free will. Can one break his destiny? Or rather, does fate exist?

But the thing that I love the most about this play is how it likens our lives to dreams.

"What is life? A thing that seems,
A mirage that falsely gleams,
Phantom joy, delusive rest,
Since is life a dream at best,
And even dreams themselves are dreams"

And most importantly, that it doesn't matter whether we dream or not, because either way, we need to do what's right. It's interestingly timely, because just a few months ago I was having a discussion with my father as to whether a man, doing a wrong thing in his dream, is still guilty of his wrongdoing, although it's not "real". I am glad I'm not the only one who thinks that he's guilty.

*****

This is becoming too personal. So, how's your reading? Don't forget to share the link. Happy reading.