Her entry begins:
I recently finished Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table. For many years, I read only classic novels, but I fell in love with Ondaatje’s writing after seeing the film The English Patient, and then reading the novel on which it was based. Ondaatje is the heir of Virginia Woolf’s shifting multipersonal narration, but while her prose is gnarled and dense, each of his sentences is beautifully spare and balanced. Also an accomplished poet, Ondaatje’s precision in language and ear for rhythm are exceptional. He has the talent of choosing the perfect detail to make a scene or character seem specific and real: Hana playing hopscotch by candlelight, Marie-Neige “gathering her senses into almost clarity” after falling asleep over a book. In China this is called “painting the pupil of the dragon,” that is, the adding the final detail that brings a painting to life. (Interestingly, Ondaatje alludes to a related tradition, Netra Mangala, the painting of the Buddha’s eyes, in Anil’s Ghost.)About The Red Chamber, from the publisher:
The Cat’s Table shows the originality of vision and...[read on]
In this lyrical reimagining of the Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber, set against the breathtaking backdrop of eighteenth-century Beijing, the lives of three unforgettable women collide in the inner chambers of the Jia mansion. When orphaned Daiyu leaves her home in the provinces to take shelter with her cousins in the Capital, she is drawn into a world of opulent splendor, presided over by the ruthless, scheming Xifeng and the prim, repressed Baochai. As she learns the secrets behind their glittering façades, she finds herself entangled in a web of intrigue and hidden passions, reaching from the petty gossip of the servants’ quarters all the way to the Imperial Palace. When a political coup overthrows the emperor and plunges the once-mighty family into grinding poverty, each woman must choose between love and duty, friendship and survival.Learn more about the book and author at Pauline A. Chen's website.
In this dazzling debut, Pauline A. Chen draws the reader deep into the secret, exquisite world of the women’s quarters of an aristocratic household, where the burnish of wealth and refinement mask a harsher truth: marriageable girls are traded like chattel for the family’s advancement, and to choose to love is to risk everything.
Also see: Alternate opening lines: The Red Chamber.
Writers Read: Pauline A. Chen.