Ah, Tibet! This is the land of stupendous mountain vistas, prayer flags flapping in the breeze, monasteries perched precariously on hillsides and gentle orange-clad lamas chanting Buddhist prayers in incense-filled temples. And then, along comes Tsering Döndrup to spoil it all.
Before I read this wonderfully quirky book of stories, I had never given much thought to such things as trainer bras or lucky dry fruit, both of which feature in two of May-Lee Chai’s stories about Chinese immigrants and their reactions to their experiences in new countries.
“I certainly was not born to history,” Paul Cohen tells us at the very beginning of his book; indeed he wasn’t. He didn’t want to follow his father’s men’s clothing trade, and gave up engineering after one year in university to study the humanities, and even then he did not concentrate on any one part of it. He thought about architecture, then psychiatry and finally the army. None of these, on consideration, were very satisfying, and involved long hours of what seemed to Cohen very boring work.
The Kuunmong, to give this book its Korean title, is described by its new translator as “the most elegant of Korea’s literary novels and one of the most beloved masterpieces of Korean literature.”
“Greatest novelist.” I’ve never been much of a fan of someone being dubbed the “greatest” anything, as it assumes there can never have been anyone better and perhaps never will be.
If it hadn’t been for Ezra Pound and a 20th-century literature course at university, I would never have heard of Li Bai, and even then I thought his name was Rihaku, because in 1915 Pound, who knew absolutely no Chinese at all, published a number of “translated” poems by Rihaku in a collection entitled Cathay.
There’s a rather ungrammatical saying which goes “sometimes I eats to live, but mostly I lives to eat.” That’s why we have cookery books; we love to eat and we love the things that go along with eating, namely social interaction and sheer sensual pleasure.