By a happy accident, my October reading picks follow the theme of Chinese Heritage
As my work on the Sparrow Squadron sequel goes into overdrive, my blogging is still only going to be intermittent. So I was very happy to have been spurred to write this post by a Twitter book tag from friend of the blog Kristin Kraves Books (@kristinbooks). Shout out, Kristin! The bookblogging community has been a lovely and welcoming place, and it was really heartening to draw inspiration from it even as I’ve been going through a lean blogging period.
This tag is a list of October reading choices. I quickly noticed a theme developing entirely by coincidence. All of the books have some connection to Chinese history. So I’m declaring October to be my personal Chinese Heritage Month!
My October Reads
The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu
This first novel by award-winning author Ken Liu has long been on my TBR. To be honest, I didn’t really know much about it beyond glowing reviews. It was only when I started reading it that I realized it’s deep connection to Chinese history. It’s not only that the novel’s world shows off many influences from classical China. It’s that the overarching plot hews closely to events from the end of the First Emperor’s reign and the subsequent rise of the Han Dynasty.
I’m only halfway through, but it’s won me over completely. Some very famous episodes form Chinese legend and history work their way into the plot. Every time I encounter one of these, I smile the same way I would recognizing a pop-cultural Easter Egg in a movie. I was particularly tickled to read Liu’s depiction of “pointing to a deer and calling it a horse.” And after just over a hundred pages, Kuni Garu is already one of my favourite fantasy protagonists of all time.
The close relationship between The Grace of Kings and Chinese history also gives me some blogging inspiration. I’ll write about this and other fantasy stories that draw from the well of real historical events and people in a future post.
Short Stories of Chinese Wisdom, by Feng Meng Qi
One of the struggles of being a second-generation immigrant is trying to pass on my Chinese heritage and language to my children. I’m not fluent in Chinese (which I attribute to my mother not being a tiger mom and letting me off the hook when I whined about going to Chinese school on Saturdays ?- thanks, Mom… no really, thanks, I’m happy you’re not a tiger mom!) As a result, I dearly appreciate any opportunity to practice my Chinese. When I can include passing this on to my kids, all the better.
Short Stories of Chinese Wisdom is essentially a textbook aimed at English speakers learning Chinese. It recounts famous stories from China’s history and tradition which often have a moral to them. Because the stories are written out in both English and grade-school Chinese, it’s ideal for reading to my kids in both languages. The Chinese text includes pinyin pronunciation guides. There are also lengthier explanations of aspects of Chinese culture that the stories touch on. Stories are grouped by theme. Being a textbook, there are learning activities included for each theme.
By allowing me to both practice my Chinese and teach it to my kids, this book is a valuable parenting tool, not lease because it saves that most precious of parenting resources: time.
Three Kingdoms, Vol. 1: Heroes and Chaos, written by Wei Dong Chen, illustrated by Xiao Long Liang
Speaking of the kids, I was recently at a Chinese restaurant when they asked me about the red-faced statue in the corner. If you’ve ever been in a (authentic) Chinese restaurant, chances are, you’ve seen this guy. He’s Guan Yu, one of the most famous figures from Chinese history.
Guan Yu lived in the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries AD. He was pivotal to the attempt to restore the Han Dynasty after its decline and fall. The 14th century novelization of these events, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, by Luo Guan Zhong, is the Chinese national epic. Think of a combination of King Arthur’s tales and the complete works of Shakespeare and you’ll get a sense of what it means to Chinese culture.
It’s a story I want my kids to learn. But at over 800,000 words in the original Chinese, with hundreds of characters, it’s an unimaginably vast story for little kids. So I was glad to learn there is an English language graphic novel version.
The content of the graphic novel is probably still too complex and, true to history, too bloody for the kids at time. On top of that, the adaptation appears unabridged, coming in at 20 volumes of nearly 200 pages each! Nevertheless, I’ll read it myself and point my kids to it when they’re older. I’m also excited to learn that the same author/illustrator team have adapted two other classic Chinese stories: Journey to the West and The Water Margin. I’ll definitely be checking those out!