All praise to Columbia’s Modern Chinese Literature Series for bringing us an essential Asian masterpiece.


An intellectual hero’s alienation and disintegration are painstakingly dramatized in this classic Taiwanese novel, completed in 1945 but not previously translated into English.

Zhouliu Wu (1900–76), a prominent journalist also renowned for his politically inflected fiction, focuses with unnerving intensity on the psyche of his protagonist Hu Taiming, who grows up in a Taiwanese village near the end of the prolonged (1895–1945) Japanese occupation of that island nation (formerly Formosa). Taiming’s beloved grandfather “Old Hu” labors to ensure his grandson’s education in the Chinese classics—but everything indigenous to their culture is either reviled or suppressed by Japanese authorities. The lingering cultural shock exacts a heavy toll. Taiming’s father Hu Wenqing, a respected physician, falls into adultery, takes a concubine and finds his wealth and property drained by government demands and fragmented by his extended families’ greed. Taiming’s scientific and mathematical studies, followed by abortive teaching positions, take him backward and forward to mainland China, Japan (primarily Nanjing), then again to his increasingly embattled and impoverished village, from which he commutes to Taipei to serve as a (drafted) Homeland Defense “Volunteer” after Japan’s attack on the U.S. provokes a ruinous Pacific War. Meanwhile, Taiming falls pointlessly in love with a Japanese girl, briefly marries a Taiwanese “new woman” (whose ardent nationalist activism endangers both their lives) and survives to see his nearest and dearest family members buried, compromised by the imperatives of assimilation, or swallowed up in Japan’s militaristic frenzy. The concluding pages grow increasingly discursive, before the author recovers, producing a stunning ironic ending. For most of its length, however, the novel offers a rich panorama filled with telling economic and political details (e.g., the pathetic attempts of Taiming’s brother Zhigang to “become” Japanese; orders requiring rice farmers to adopt agricultural problems that make it impossible for them to meet quotas). The cumulative effect is devastating.

All praise to Columbia’s Modern Chinese Literature Series for bringing us an essential Asian masterpiece.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-231-13728-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2005

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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