Fortress Besieged by Qian Zhong Shu (review by Andrew R. ’17)

Fortress BesiegedFortress Besieged by Qian Zhong Shu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s a sad fact of English-language literature that the number of books translated from English and shipped around the world far outstrips that of books translated into English from other languages. That means the pool of books available to American readers in translation from, say, Mandarin is relatively limited—only works of scholarly interest, unusual acclaim, or specifically Western appeal make their way to our libraries. Fortunately, Qian Zhongshu’s classic Fortress Besieged meets all three criteria. Not only has it been the object of intense study and widespread consumption in the seventy-five years since its publication, but its consistent references to Western proverbs and literature make it uniquely relatable to an American audience. (The excellent translation by Nathan K. Mao and Jeanne Kelly also helps.) The reader follows Fang Hung-Chien, a graduate student returning home from Europe, as he stumbles through a sticky love triangle, an exhaustive trip to China’s interior, and finally a bitter and loveless marriage. The author’s intent sometimes seems to be to poke fun at every subject he can come up with, from the Chinese to the Jews, from government officials to university professors, from bachelors to husbands to women of every age. None of this, though, changes the novel’s unique and undeniable cultural value. – Andrew R. ’17

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