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Posts Tagged ‘novel’

The Woman in White, the novel

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

My reading group gathered together over the weekend to discuss this month’s selection of reading: Wilkie Collins’ novel The Woman in White.

A month ago, when we first decided to read the book, we went to watch the play based on the novel. We all enjoyed the play enormously (blog on Oct. 10). Now that we’ve finished reading the novel, we have the pleasure of comparing the two and exploring deeper into the narrative.

Our reading group of seven is a perfect number—small enough to sit around one table and large enough to have different perspectives. It has always been a joy discussing books we’ve read together.

I enjoyed the novel, despite having known the plot from the play; and my favorite characters in the book are Marian and Count Fosco—both witty, strong, and smart. Even though Fosco was a villain, one could not help from being charmed by his good manners, ability to engage his listeners, and the tenderness in a man who could be ruthless. Everyone in my group resonated with me, and by hearing their view, I also gained a better understanding of the setting in the Victorian period and why, intelligent and strong as Marian was, the best outcome for her might be what the author set her to be—living with her sister, Laura, and caring for her child vs. having a life of her own.

First edition

In many ways, it was amazing that Collins created such a strong woman character, despite having Marian diminish herself because she was so helpless at times as woman.

As a “sensation novel” in a detective genre, the plot was so meticulously constructed that it felt almost too perfect. The narrative from the perspective of different characters, an innovation at the time, still provide joy for a reader to get into the head of the perspective narrator, and the voice of each person, from the protagonist Marian, Walter Hartright, to the servants, each came alive, and the tune and language in line with their education and social status. Quite amazing.

I neglected to notice that the only key character who didn’t have a narration in the novel was Laura, the beautiful young woman that Hartright fell in love with head over heals, and eventually, like in a Hollywood movie, married.

“The dumb blond,” one referred her in our group.

“I’m so glad she didn’t have a narrative in the book,” another commented.

We all laughed.

The book is well written, entertaining and meticulously constructed. The play certainly did the justice to the novel, though the ending was a bit different.

Worth checking it out if you haven’t read it.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit for more information.

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Wang Anyi’s The Song of Everlasting Sorrow

Monday, February 14th, 2011

By Jian Ping

I recently read Wang Anyi’s widely claimed novel The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, a novel that covers the protagonist Wany Qiyao’s life from the 1940s to modern day China. I must say I find the writing less than satisfactory.

Yes, I do like Wang Anyi’s description of Shanghai at different times, the gossip, which is core of life  in the Nongtang (neighborhood) of the city, and the fashion in old China and now. However, I find the main characters fleeting, if not superficial, and many happenings, such as playing Mahjong in the 50’s, Wang Qiyao surviving by selling gold bars she received in the 40’s and living an unscathed life during the Cultural Revolution, not to mention her free association with men of different age in her apartment as a single woman with an illegitimate child, all quite farfetched.

Compared to the dynamic and lively translation of Mo Yan’s novel Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out by Howard Goldblatt, I also find the English translation rigid. Wang Anyi is one of China’s prolific contemporary writers. I’d like to check out her other books in Chinese next time I visit China, and hopefully I’ll have a better experience.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit or

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Reading Mo Yan

Friday, January 28th, 2011

By Jian Ping

I watched the film Red Sorghum, written by Mo Yan and directed by Zhang Yimo, years ago. I loved the presentation of the down-to-earth, yet heroic life of the peasants. But I never read the book.

Recently, at the suggestion of a friend, I obtained the English translation of Mo Yan’s  novel Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out (生死疲劳). With three other books I was reading simultaneously, I was thinking to cover two or three chapters a day, at the most.

But I was mesmerized and ended up finishing reading it in less than a week. The narrative Mo Yan chose was unique—the reincarnation of a landlord, Ximen Nao, who was executed at close range during China’s land reform. He came back first as a donkey, then a ox, a pig and a monkey, before being elevated to a human again. The story covered nearly half a century of China’s recent

Mo Yan 莫言


history. Without getting into the nuts and bolts of the political movements, Mo Yan vividly presented the impacts of these movements on people and their lives, from devoted participants, opportunists, to those who dared to resist and those who just wanted to get along with their lives. No matter what position one held in the social hierarchy, nobody’s life was spared of the political and social waves. This is not a novel—it’s a powerful social critique, conducted with more realism via the eyes of animals than that of human beings. It’s an outcry that touches the heart to the core and creates chills, especially on someone like me who lived and witnessed some of the episodes, albeit in a different setting.

The translation by Howard Goldblatt is wonderfully done. For those who are interested in recent Chinese history and literature, this is a must read!

Jian Ping, author Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. For more information, visit,

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Perspectives on Writing a First Novel – (4) The End of the Story

Friday, March 13th, 2009
Au dessus de la vallée... un bleu brésilien...!!!
Image by Denis Collette…!!! via Flickr

Creating an exciting end to a novel, seems to be a regular question from my interviewers.

Fashion and changing perceptions over time, have influenced the endings of many novels.

Romantic novels – where boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again, love blooms, and they live happily ever after – still have a large audience.  These stories are of course variations of the theme.  In Shakespeare, we see many a boy meeting a girl, who may or may not be disguised as another boy, and through much intrigue, parental disapproval, and devious friendships, we could see the girl at the end of the story appearing to die from an overdose, and the boy committing suicide, desperate and distraught.

I believe that a more modern approach has been to ask the audience to think.  This means that many of today’s plays, movies, and books do not have neat, tidy endings.  To some audiences, this can be infuriating.  However, others enjoy the experience of putting their own interpretation and ending to a story.

In my novel, “BEAR ANY BURDEN,” I have gone for the more modern approach.  While circulating my manuscript to many literary agents and receiving many rejections, I realized that some adjustments to my story needed to be made.  One particularly well-established New York literary agent called the ending of my manuscript “serendipitous.”   Only a literary agent would use such a delightful word.

I did however give further thought to my ending, trying to decide whether I should have all the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place or not.

Accordingly, the end of my book now leaves many questions unanswered.  Some say this should lead to a sequel.  Maybe so.  But the objective is to make the audience think and not to have a “cheesy” ending in which all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

Do you agree?

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden:

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Perspectives on Writing a First Novel – (1) Inspiration

Friday, February 27th, 2009
Majestic Tree
Image by Garry’ via Flickr

I have recently done some online interviews and responded to a number of questions, starting with what inspires somebody to write a novel?

Everyone believes they have a story to tell, and that there is the great American novel inside them, just waiting to be written and make the best seller list.

In my case, a cousin of mine in London had completed a Genealogical research into our family history, which he had published privately.  He had retired and decided he would spend a few months creating a Family Tree.  The few months eventually turned into five years, by which time he had traced 1500 members of our family through 42 branches, back to 1760, and had communicated with many of them around the world.  His research produced a comprehensive encyclopedia of information about the history of Tarnow, located 45 miles west of Krakow, when it was part of an independent Poland, part of the Austrian Hungarian Empire, and during occupations by the Russians and more recently in the mid-20th Century – the brutal Nazis.

As I read through this award-winning piece of Genealogical research, I started to formulate a story based upon our family experiences, coupled with my knowledge of the Beverage Alcohol Industry and some of the characters that one meets over a busy lifetime.

The result is BEAR ANY BURDEN – A Cold War Espionage Thriller set in Poland in 1983.  Sir Alex Campbell, head of an international drinks company is on a business trip to Poland, a country in the midst of political turmoil.  A new “Solidarity” movement is rising on the streets, and the Communist government is cracking down mercilessly.  Alex Campbell has an additional mission, a “little job” for the British Secret Intelligence Services.  He will deliver an airline bag containing money and passports to a British agent who is to help the world-renowned nuclear scientist, Dr. Erik Keller, escape across the Iron Curtain to the West.

Alex meets the beautiful Anna Kaluza, the British agent, whose life, like his and that of Erik Keller, had been impacted forever by their World War II experiences.

Alex agrees to help Anna complete her mission.

What begins as one of many routine “little jobs” Alex has done for the SIS, quickly turns into an increasingly dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, involving murder, bribery, and international politics.

I hope I created an interesting Espionage Thriller, which illustrates the lifetime impact of war-time traumas, and is also a family saga spanning 90 years of European History.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: