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Sample Sunday: from China to USA

Sample Sunday is an opportunity to check all the books on my shelves and decide what to keep

As I go through by stacks of unread books, it’s the the turn of novels with titles all beginning with the letter E to come in for some close scrutiny.

Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke

I’ve seen Lianke’s name often enough in book reviews and interviews but have yet to read anything by him. His most recent novel Explosion Chronicles has been described as a satire on the rapid growth of China as an economic powerhouse. The book follows the transformation of Explosion from an insignificant village in Henan province to megalopolis in less than 50 years.

Some of the events in the novel are based on fact but I’ve seen comments to the effect that in Lianke’s work it isn’t always easy to work out what is fiction and what is reality. So when in this novel, he mentions a policy of compulsory cremations that causes a number of elderly people to take their own lives in order to be buried before the deadline, we’ can’t be sure if this is a figment of Lianke’s imagination.

The Verdict: I’m thinking this is worth keeping. There’s more than a touch of the absurd but I’m intrigued by the fact it shows a not completely fictional world.

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chung

Staying in China we have a biography of one of the country’s most notable leaders from the pre-Communist era. Jung Chung tries to set the record straight on the Empress, a woman considered to have murdered opponents and squandered the country’s wealth to protect her own interests. In Chung’s version, the Empress was a reformer who laid the foundations for the China to emerge from its medieval past into the modern age.

The Verdict: Keep. Like so many others I loved Wild Swans so I’m hoping Chung will bring the same mix of insight and vividness to this later book. .

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

We’re moving countries now to the USA. I’m slowly making my way through Edith Wharton’s novels. I enjoyed The Age of Innocence two years ago and I know I’ve read The House of Mirth though I can’t recall anything about it now so shall have to read it again.

Ethan Frome is a novella published in 1911, and described in various quarters as Wharton’s masterpiece. Set in the US fictional town of Starkfield, Massachusetts, it tells the story of Ethan Frome, married to a sickly wife but in love with her cousin and companion

The Verdict: Keep. I like the sound of a doomed love affair.

If you know these books please give me your opinion on whether you think they deserve space on my shelves?

Sample Sunday is when I take a look at all the unread books on my shelves and decide which to keep and which to let free. The goal isn’t to shrink the TBR as such, but rather it’s about making sure my shelves have only books I do want to read.

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