Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review: A Dream of Red Mansions by Hsueh-chin Tsao and Ngo Kao

A Dream of Red Mansions, An Abridged Version by Hsueh-chin Tsao and Ngo Kao, translated by Hsien-yi Yang and Gladys Yang

Reviewed by Ingrid

Published: 1996

It's about: A Dream of Red Mansions is the title of this particular abridgment of a  Chinese work originally called The Story of the Stone. (It's also sometimes called Dream of the Red Chamber.) This book was written in the 18th century and is considered one of China's Four Great Classical Novels. This abridgment follows three young people - Pao-yu, a young boy from an aristocratic family who is somewhat spoiled and loves pretty clothes, his two cousins Tai-yu and Pao-chai, and the love triangle that emerges among them. This abridgment consists mostly of smaller stories about interactions between various family members in the household--there is considerable drama resulting from jealousy, misunderstanding, and general antics.

I thought: I read this book for a class I am taking this semester on Asian literature. We read excerpts from other translations and abridgments and talked quite a bit about the original Chinese and the significance of the language to this story. Unfortunately, without all the background information we received in class I know I would have been completely lost in this abridgment. It doesn't provide the reader with the significant background information that ties the story together. Without having read other versions of this story, I can tell you the ending makes NO SENSE. Pao-yu is actually a stone that has been reincarnated, and the girls he interacts he had connections to in a former life. This abridgment made no mention of that whatsoever.

The names "Pao-yu" "Tai-yu" and "Pao-chai" actually mean "Precious Jade," "Black Jade" and "Precious Hairpin," allusions which show up numerous times in the story - but this abridgment draws no connection to them.

The translation was rough. Some sentences sounded the way foreign people sometimes talk - the grammar was slightly off .... and it just didn't sound quite right.  The translators chose to use English colloquial phrases that just seemed awkward in this story (like the phrase "cramping my style.")

Overall I was very disappointed with this abridgment and would not recommend it.

Verdict: This abridged version doesn't do the work justice. Throw this one in the rubbish bin and find a different version. 

Reading Recommendations:

Warnings: Allusions to sex. Also, the word "bitch" appears numerous times.

Favorite excerpts: "One day, about the middle of the third month, carrying a copy of The Western Chamber Pao-yu strolled after breakfast across the bridge above Seeping Fragrance Lock. There he sat down on a rock to read under a blossoming peach-tree. He had just reached the line "Red petals fall in drifts" when a gust of wind blew down such a shower of petals that he and his book were covered with them and the ground near by was carpeted with red. Afraid to trample on the flowers if he shook them off, Pao-yu gathered them into the skirt of his gown and carried them to the water's edge where he shook them into the brook. They floated and circled there for a while, then drifted down the River of Seeping Fragrance."

What I'm reading next: The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu