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Reviews 281 rect way out ofthe tangle ofwords and meanings in an uncertain terminology is to gain linguistic access to original Chinese texts. For those who have become aware offhe language problems inherent in current English literature and who have realized how much is to be gained by "jumping die language barrier," Learn to Read Chineseoffers a language-learning tool that can substantiaUy reduce fhe amount ofstudy required to achieve diis goal. For those who have not yet got the message, it stands on the bookshelfas a discreet reminder that widiout language fhere is no shared human knowledge. Nigel Wiseman China Medical CoUege Nigel Wiseman studied Spanish and German at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, andfor the lastfifteen years has lived in Taiwan, translating Chinese medical literature. Wang Wen-hsing. Family Catastrophe. English translation by Susan Wan Dolling. Honolulu: University ofHawai'i Press, 1995. 259 pp. Hardcover, isbn 0-8248-1618-8. Paperback, isbn 0-8248-1710-9. Family Catastrophe, a translation by Susan DoUing ofWang Wen-hsing's 1972 novel Jiabian, is an important addition to the short list ofliterary works from Taiwan already made avaüable to English readers. (Several ofthe important items on this list have been translated by Howard Goldblatt, eminent translator ofmodern Chinese literature, including such tides as Pai Hsien-yung's Crystal Boys, Li Ang's The Butcher's Wife, and Hwang Chun-ming's The Drowningofan Old Cat.) Its hard-core modernistic experimentalism often compared by critics to that of James Joyce, the novel enjoys a unique status in postwar Taiwan's literary history, and would probably already have been translated were it not for its reputation as an extremely difficult text. Despite die chaUenging nature ofher task, Susan DoUing has accomplished a great deal in her artistic recreation offhe novel: fhe exquisite sentiments ofthe original are preserved to a high degree ofprecision. Furthermore , readers ofthe translation, spared die sometimes distracting features of© 1997 by University WangWen-hsing's artistic idiolectin the original, wiUprobablybe more direcdy aw 11 ressaffected by die powerful drama that unfolds within fhe novel. Family Catastropheis a bildungsroman fhat penetrates deep into die love-hate relationship between the hero Fan Yeh and his parents in a financiaUy strained 282 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1997 mainlander famüy in Taiwan in the fifties and sixties. The novel's radical exposure ofthe oppressive traditional Chinese famüy ethics, which created a controversial reception when it first appeared, maybe seen as a product offhe postwar zeal of Taiwanese inteUectuals to use modern Western values as correctives for their neo-traditionalist dominant culture. The autiior's moral relativism and unflinching scrutiny ofthe deep recesses of die human psyche, botii attributes ofliterary modernism, were bodi offensive and disturbing to his original readers. They were appaUed by the scandalous implications of die novel's diematic ambivalence: fhe son in the novel treats his senile father in such an abusive manner that the latter is forced to run away from home, yet this outrageously unfilial behavior is never explicidy condemned in the work itself. Wang Wen-hsing's adoption of a modernist aesthetics was further accompanied by iconoclastic personal gestures. Espousing an absolutist artistic vision, he declared that "[i]n my novel Jiabian, you can ignore everything else, and simply focus on its language. ..." An extremely fastidious craftsman, Wang is said to be able to write only seventy Chinese characters a day. And, in his opinion, an ideal reader of any literary work should read at a pace ofno more than a thousand characters per hour. Such an elitist literary view made Wang a ready target for the so-caUed Nativist literary movement in the seventies, when literary modernism became a scapegoat for Western cultural imperialism. Jiabian was then frequently singled out for denunciation and castigated for its endorsement of "capitalist" values such as individualism, rationalism, and antitraditionalism. As ideological criticism in Taiwan becomes increasingly more sophisticated in the post-Martial Law period since 1988, a critical reassessment of the Modernist literary movement and its representative works is also under way. Indeed, the usual perception ofmodernist writers as disengaged artists is never unproblematic. In its realistic portrait of the fifties and sixties...


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