The Story of the Stone by Xueqin Can
The Golden Days by Xueqin Cao
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is also called Dream of the Red Chamber in English, with other variants like that. I have read several translations of this book, nearly all of them abridged, but finally found this five-volume translation of the full novel by accident. I had read another unabridged translation that was produced in Beijing, which was a noble effort but weak in terms of English. The book is simply magnificent, probably the best single novel I have ever read. Because the names of the characters are rendered as Chinese it can be difficult for an English-language reader to follow, even in terms of the gender of characters. But this saga of a wealthy family, close to the emperor in terms of favor, as it slowly falls into poverty and humiliation, is a treasure. The story of the book is fascinating; it circulated in manuscript form for years before it was printed, passed from hand to hand, recopied, treasured. I don’t think there is any book in English with this scope or power; it’s beyond anything I have ever read before. The story of a boy born with a jade stone in his mouth, a man who loves women and female life, who eschews his maleness in many ways; the story of two branches of a prominent family, their intrigues, their feuds, their infidelities, their sickness; incomparably beautiful. If you are to take on the reading of this book, maybe copy the cast of characters and keep it handy, or start with one of the translations that uses the old convention of translating the women’s names and leaving the men’s names in Chinese. Be mindful that the book was begun by one writer and finished by another, and that the manuscript history is a story in itself. It is a fantastical journey.