Saturday, July 21, 2012

Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel, in the Moss Roberts translation, has many hundreds of pages of action, adventure, profound strategy and psychology, elevated and debased rhetoric and ethics, and a compelling set of overlapping stories.  It was the first of the "four great Chinese classic novels," a favorite in China for hundreds of years and is still widely read today.  It shares some characteristics with my other medieval favorites, the Baghdad historian al-Tabari and the Icelandic sagas:  pithiness, action, interspersed poetry, and such a large canvas of characters that one must be prepared to be satisfied without full understanding.

A selection from Plutarch, The Fall of the Roman Republic, with biographies of Caius Marius, Sulla, Crassus, Pompey, Caesar and Cicero, in Rex Warner's translation, shines an illuminating and occasionally harsh light on the lives of some very powerful and ambitious men.

Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited is a quick and vivid read, following heights of the pleasures of youthful freedom and dissipation with depths of the degradation that follows.  Kipling's Kim is a great boy's story, full of exotic adventure.

The Book of J, i.e., the Jahwist, is a selection from the Torah with translation by David Rosenberg and commentary by Harold Bloom.  It presents especially in Bloom's commentaries a startling version of the meanings in this ancient book.  TANAKH: The Holy Scriptures, a contemporary translation of the Jewish Bible (roughly equivalent to the Christian Old Testament) by the Jewish Publication Society, contains many fascinating stories and some lovely religious poetry.

Arthur Rubinstein's My Young Years spends many pages on the great pianist's dissipated youth, with its repeated cycles of poverty and luxury, mixed with tales of acquaintance with great musicians and various aristocrats.  With its purportedly faithful reproduction of dialog and descriptions of many loves and high society, its tone is reminiscent of Casanova.

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