Monday, May 03, 2010

HOOKED ON BEIJING



Earlier in the year I posted my theory on why Scandinavian Crime Fiction was so popular at the moment.
I felt that basically good writing, excellent translating, good plots, really interesting characters and an attempt to educate as well as entertain were the keys to this success. Some pretty good marketing has also had a part to play.

I am about half way through Henning Mankell's The Man from Beijing and this wide ranging saga with an educational back story about the exploitation and humiliation of China, and the Chinese, in nineteenth century has me hooked.
Mankell gives us a picture of that time and its blatant racism without pulling any punches, and that is what makes this book so interesting.

'But you mustn't forget that the Chinese are also base and cunning liars and swindlers: they are arrogant and greedy and have a bestial sensuality that sometimes disgusts me. On the whole they are a worthless people.'

But he also makes reference to modern events that I suspect have been gleaned from real life, and do not reflect too well on our present day society.
I was particularly interested in the 19th century China section of the book, because forty years ago I was considering giving up dentistry, and studying history. [Most dentists working in the NHS during those underpaid and overworked times considered giving up almost every morning.]
I already had my dental degree but took A-level History, which in those days consisted of one paper on European History, one on English History, and a chosen special subject from a long list.
I chose as my special subject The Great Powers in the Far East 1840-1941, passed the exam, but fate intervened when I was given the opportunity to buy the practice I was working in at the time.

4 Comments:

Blogger Margot Kinberg said...

Norman - How really, really interesting about your passion for history. I've always loved history, too, and as you know, I still love historical mysteries. Interesting, isn't it, how life intervenes when we think our lives are going in one or another direction? In an odd coincidence, that's the focus of my next blog post...

Oh, and I'm very glad you're enjoying The Man from Beijing. Every review I read of that novel makes me more and more upset with myself that I haven't started it yet...

8:45 AM  
Blogger Maxine said...

How fascinating, Norman. I loved History at school, but stopped after O level as I was firmly told to be a scientist. I never really managed to escape that directive, but now my eldest daughter is doing a History degree and enjoying it very much. She sends me her essays to check the grammar, so I am learning quite a bit. My most recent lesson was about slavery in the Caribbean. (part of a module about Empire I believe). Last week it was the sainthood of Thomas a Becket.#

I loved The Man from Beijing but I thought the historical sections were actually the weakest, particularly the USA one. To me they read somewhat soap-opera-like, compared with the excellent modern sections in Sweden, China, London and a couple of African countries. A very ambitious novel and thoroughly enjoyable.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

I have thought about buying this one in May, but it is still a bit pricier than most Swedish paperbacks so I have not quite made up my mind. It is hard to wait, though.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Margot- Beijing is an ambitious book and another blow to those who claim all Scandinavian crime fiction is similar.

Maxine-"I was firmly told be a scientist". I thought I was the only one with practical parents. ;o)
I think the historical sections I have read so far are a bit weaker because the characters are more difficult to comprehend than the modern ones.

Dorte- I went mad and bought this in hardback off Amazon.

12:04 PM  

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