Favorite Books of 2017

PEN Hong Kong executive committee members introduce books that left an impression in 2017.
pride and prejudice

Cathy Holcombe recommends:

"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen

Jane Austen has, somehow, become the darling of the alt-right. Which offers so many reasons to read, or re-read, the 19th century author.

珍。奧斯汀似乎成為了另類右派吹奉的作家,更添閱讀這位十九世紀作家作品的動機。

Reason # 1: Are the neo-Nazis right? This is a question I had in mind while rereading Pride and Prejudice. Which is after all a nail-biting drama about a husband hunt that ends happily when Elizabeth spears the rich guy. Why should I find relevance in this tale, when I'm a modern woman who can marry who I want, thanks to access to labor markets (full disclosure: my husband is broke). Maybe it’s time to dump these old books.

原因一:新納粹主義應否歸類為「右翼」?這是我重讀«傲慢與偏見»時腦海一直懸浮著的問題。這是一場令人焦慮的「尋夫歷險」,幸好最後以伊莉莎白釣得金龜婿作結。當見賜於勞動市場,我是個可以跟任何如意郎君結婚的現代女性,為何我要在本書中嘗試找關聯性?(全面披露:我的夫婿是一文不名的)想來這可能是丟棄舊書的好時機。

#2: To explore the question of whether reading makes us better people.  We blithely assume reading is good, and there are studies that link fiction-reading with higher levels of empathy. But is it possible we're wrong, and the studies are flawed. What if readers just find what they want to find in a book -- confirm their own prejudices - and if so, what's the point?

原因二:要討論為何閱讀使我們變成更好的人。我們輕率地假設閱讀對我們有裨益,也有研究指出閱讀小說會增強我們的同理心。可是,我們會否出了錯,而這些研究又有謬誤?如果讀者只是想找一本書來確認自己的偏見---閱讀又是為何呢?

#3: To redeem Austen. In a character like Elizabeth, apparently the alt-right see a woman who stands for some ideal of female virtue and purity that has been lost in the modern world. What I see in this character is a risk-taker. She could have moved in for the kill much earlier than she did, but bided her time, sharpening her spear to the point of no escape for Darcy. I believe Elizabeth would make an excellent hedge-fund manager if born into this time and place. With our own interpretations, we take Elizabeth back from the Nazis.

原因三:為奧斯汀平反。像伊莉莎白,在另類右翼的眼中無疑是象徵現今世界已失去的女性品德及純潔的女人。但在我的眼中她卻是個冒險者。她可以在更早時間便收成這段感情,但她卻花更多的時間來磨利自己的武器,以求一擊即中俘獲達西的心。我相信如果伊莉莎白生於現代,她一定是一個出色的對沖基金經紀。透過我們自己的演繹,我們從納粹手中奪回伊莉莎白。

#4: Screw you Nazis. There are a number of one-dimensional characters in P&P, such as the devious spendthrift Wickham and the dumb silly sister who ran off with him. But in Elizabeth and Darcy there are dimensions, ambiguity and character development. Is it possible I should stop thinking of neo-Nazis as cartoon characters; to try to understand their dimensions; or why they even seek "virtue" at all? Would the world be a better place if we weren't say, tempted to punch Nazis? I'm not quite there yet. But I just downloaded Sense and Sensibility. Maybe I'll find the answer in this volume. Which brings us to the final reason for an Austen revival in these times: Let's not give up the faith.

原因四:去你的納粹黨人。在«傲慢與偏見»中,有很多一元的人物,例如誤入歧途的敗家子威克姆以及跟他跑掉的愚蠢姐姐。但伊莉莎白以及達西卻是複雜的人物,他們有不明確之處和性格的發展。我是否應該停止想像新納粹主義者為卡通人物,而去嘗試理解他們的多面性,或為什麼他們仍要追逐「品格」?如果我們不受誘惑去拳打納粹黨人,這會否是一個更好的世界?我依然想不通。但我剛剛下載了«理性與感性»,或許我可以在這本中找到答案。這把我們帶到最後一個在此時此刻重讀奧斯汀的理由:不要放棄信心。

Sterling Publishing Co Inc (New York), 2017

los ninos perdidos

Ilaria Maria Sala recommends:

"Los Niños Perdidos" by Valeria Luiselli

I read this book while traveling to Mexico in the Spring, and while this has been a year full of excellent reads, Valeria Luiselli’s slim volume still lingers on my mind – I recommend it wholeheartedly. In Spanish, it is called “The Lost Children,” translated into English as “Tell Me How It Ends – An Essay in 40 Questions” (published by 4th Estate in the UK, and by Coffee House Press in America.) It is the intertwined story of Luiselli, a Mexican writer now living and working in the United States, as she visits the Mexican border on a car trip with her family; and of her work as a volunteer interpreter for unaccompanied Central American children at the federal immigration Court. These are kids fleeing gang violence in Ecuador, Honduras and El Salvador, screened by the Immigration authorities with a standard, fastidiously bureaucratic questionnaire (the 40 questions of the title) hard to relate to their young lives and harrowing experiences. The dryness of the court to which the children are taken when they apply for refugee status is paralleled by that of the southern landscape Luiselli and her family travel through – her husband Alvaro Enrigue, also a prominent Mexican writer, and their children – as their Green Cards, allowing them to legally work in the United States, are being processed. The book was written while the American Presidential election campaign was in full swing, with talk of “building a wall” and boasts of “deporting Mexicans” loudly embraced, so it has all the urgency of a current affairs read. Yet, Luiselli takes many steps back to give a full background of what is happening and who is paying the price: young, traumatized children, exploited, victimized and then chased away with cynical brutality. As Luiselli recounts their complicated stories, the bureaucracy that tries to simplify them, and the history behind them, she puts decency and humanity into the frame again, in an unforgettably sensitive and piercing manner.

我在春天往墨西哥旅遊時閱讀此書。雖然今年稍後接二連三地讀到好書,但這本由Valeria Luiselli寫下的薄薄一本卻在我腦海中留下深刻印象,非在此全心全意推介不可。在西班牙語中,這書名為«失落的孩子»,翻譯成英文就是«告訴我這是如何結束的---由40問句組成的文章» (在英國由4th Estate出版,在美國則由Coffee House Press出版)。這是Luiselli本人交織於兩地的故事,作為一個旅美的墨西哥作家,她與家人自駕到墨西哥邊境,以及充任沒有成人陪伴的中美小孩在聯邦移民法院中的義務翻譯的故事。這些孩子有的是為了逃避在厄瓜多爾、洪都拉斯以及薩爾瓦多等地的幫派暴力,由移民局進行官僚化的審查,要他們填寫標準的問卷(就是書名中的40問句),根本無法與他們的年輕生命與悲慘過去接軌。這些孩子被帶到法庭以申請難民資格,等候他們的綠卡申請獲批,才能合法地工作。這法庭乾燥無味,堪比Luiselli與其家人----包括她的著名墨西哥作家丈夫Alvaro Enrigue,以及他們的孩子---到訪的南部風景。這本書寫於美國總統競選進行得如火如荼之際,正當「築起圍牆」以及「遣返墨西哥人」之說備受推祟,正需要一本時事讀物。但Luiselli回歸根本,嘗試給予大家完整的背景,以及誰正為這一切付出代價:年輕、飽受精神創傷的孩子,受盡剝削及殘酷逼害。當官僚簡化著這些人的故事,Luiselli重整他們複雜的故事及背後的歷史因素,以令人深刻的敏感和穿透力把體面和人性重新帶入討論。

Sexto Piso (Mexico), 2016

Castle

Jason Y. Ng recommends:

"The Castle" by Franz Kafka

This is one of Franz Kafka’s three unfinished novels, and arguably his most personal. It tells the story of K., a foreigner who arrives in a small, inhospitable town to take up a new job, only to be told he is no longer needed. He struggles to make contact with his employers—bureaucrats in a nearby castle that is off-limits to the masses and  shrouded in deep secrecy. K. is finally granted an audience with a handful of low level bureaucrats but, despite repeated attempts, fails to gain access to the Castle.

這是弗朗茨·卡夫卡三本未完成的小說之一,亦可能是他最人性化的一本。小說講述K,一個外來者進入一個不宜居住亦不甚好客的小鎮上任新工作,卻遭告知對方已經不需要自己。他想盡辨法要聯絡他的僱主—也就是一群身處鄰近一座與世隔絕、撲朔迷離的城堡中的官僚。K最終得到數個低級官僚接見,但經過多次嘗試,他還是進不了那座城堡。

Kafka’s stories are like a Picasso painting: bizarre, lopsided, and packed with subtext. Reason alone is not enough to make sense of them. Likewise, Kafka’s protagonists are confused and alienated, but they are also defiant, determined, even heroic. They make us pity them and root for them at the same time. Above all, they hold up a mirror to us and demand us to reexamine our own existence and relationship to one other.

卡夫卡的故事就像一幅畢加索的畫作:離奇,不對稱,充滿弦外之音。單純用理性去閱讀是了解不上的。同樣地,他筆下的角色總是迷茫和被排斥的,但他們也是抗命、堅定,甚至英勇的。他們教人可悲,同時也令人為他們打氣。更重要的是,他們就是一面鏡子,迫使我們面對自己,重新審視自身的存在意義以及與他人的關係。

The Castle is no exception. K.’s frustrating and eventually futile struggle against a mysterious, untouchable government has taken on new meaning in 2017. Twenty years after the handover, Hong Kongers are still trying to forge an identity in the dark shadow of the Chinese regime—our very own Castle. On many levels, we can all relate to K., the unhappy hero who continues to stand up to the authorities no matter how pointless and hopeless it all seems. The struggle must go on, because giving up simply isn’t in his nature.

«城堡»一書也不例外,K嘗試與神秘與遙不可及的政府對抗,令他沮喪萬分,並最終徒勞無功收場。這故事在2017年對我們也有新的啟示: 主權移交後二十年,香港人仍在中共政權—也就是我們自己的城堡—的陰霾下試著找尋自己的身份。 我們在不同層面上都可以理解K的處境: 一位縱使在沒有希望和意義下依然繼續對抗權威,一位心碎的英雄。鬥爭必須繼續,因為放棄絶不是他的本性。

The book ends mid-sentence, leaving the reader wondering what is to come. K.’s future is unknown, uncertain and unnerving. Our city has never felt so Kafkaesque.

本書在一句句子的中段突然完結,令讀者只能臆測將來,只知道K的前境會是不明朗及令人不安的。 看來我們的城市真是從來沒有如此「卡夫卡」過。

Penguin (UK), 2001

Shuntaro Tanikawa book cover 2

Nicholas Wong recommends:

"New Selected Poems" by Shuntarō Tanikawa

What poetry and protests have in common, perhaps, is that they are both a means to interfere the noise of dominant culture. The poetic voice of the Japanese master Shuntarō Tanikawa allows us to perceive our life and take a break from it, when we are left at a loss to deal with it alone. “Polaroid Camera,” for example, tells us there is a “[s]ilent syntax… entangled inside” every one of us, because “a [m]usician attribute[s] too much authority to lingering sounds.” This selected collection of Tanikawa’s verse since Two Billion Light-Year of Solitude (1952) amuses us with its perceptiveness and wit on the everyday and days we hope will come with just a handful of gentleness.

詩與示威的共同點,也許就在於它們都是用以抗衡主流文化的噪音。日本大師谷川俊太郎讓我們感知自己的生命,以及當我們感到迷失時從中偷閒。例如「寶麗萊相機」,告訴我們每個人當中都有一個「無聲的語法……在內裡糾纏」,因為「音樂家把過多的權力賦予揮之不去的聲音。」這本詩集輯錄自谷川< 二十億光年の孤独> (1952)以來的作品,運用其洞察力與機智,為我們的日常生活點注溫柔。

Carcanet Press (United Kingdom), 2015

sarah

Sarah Schafer Recommends:

“The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (translation by David McDuff)

I am catching up on my Russian literature of late, and in 2017 I read Dostoyevsky’s, “The Brothers Karamazov,” a novel more than 100 years old that—like Dostoyevsky’s other works— never seems irrelevant. The tale centers on the three brothers and their drunken, belligerent, revolting father. The book has it all—sibling rivalry, love triangles and murder. But Dostoyevsky’s keen understanding of the central questions of faith, politics, society and humanity continue to amaze me.

我近來在閱讀俄國文學,在2017年我讀了杜斯妥也夫斯基的《卡拉馬助夫兄弟們》,一本已經寫成超過100年---但就像杜斯妥也夫斯基的其他作品一般---在任何時空都不會顯得格格不入。這個故事與三兄弟和他們經常酒醉、時常起槓的、反叛的父親。這個故事中包含以下所有的內容---兄弟間的鬥爭、三角戀以及兇殺。但杜斯妥也夫斯基對最關鍵的信念、政治、社會以及人文的深入了解仍然令我感到驚奇。

As I read, I highlighted some of the passages that struck me as apt for our times including:

Words spoken by the character Miusov: “…I one day had occasion, while paying a social call to a certain extremely important person in authority at the time, a friend of mine, to encounter at his home a certain most curious gentleman. He was, this individual, not so much a police spy as a kind of director of an entire team of political police spies….The theme of our deliberations had turned to the socialist revolutionaries who as a matter of fact were the subject of persecution at the time…. ‘Actually,’ he said, ‘all those socialists—the anarchists, atheists and revolutionaries—are not the ones who give us the headaches; we keep an eye on them, and their movements are well known to us. There are among them, however, though they are not many, a number of peculiar characters; these are people who believe in God and are Christians, yet are at the same time socialists. Now they are the ones who give us the worst headaches, they are a fearsome bunch! The socialist who is a Christian is more worthy of fear than the socialist who is an atheist.’”

在閱讀的過程中,我在一些我認為在現代依然具啟發性的文字上做了標記,包括以下一段:

其中由人物Miusov說出:「我有一天應酬著一個當時位高權重的人物,也是我的朋友時,在他的家中見到一位富有好奇心的紳士。這個人不像一個警察間諜,反倒像一整隊政治間諜的頭目…… 我們談到了社會主義革命者成為了受逼害的對象這一事實……他說『其實,這些社會主義者---這些無政府主義者,無神論者,以及革命分子----不是最令我們頭痛的人;我們已經有線眼針對他們了,而他們的一舉一動我們都已經暸如指掌。但他們之中,雖然沒有大量,但仍有些有趣的腳色;他們是相信上帝的基督徒,但同時也是社會主義者。現在他們是最教我們頭痛和恐懼的人!基督徒社會主義者可比無神論的社會主義者可信得多。』」

And this passage, spoken by Ivan Karamazov: “‘That I don’t understand anything,’ Ivan continued in a kind of delirium. ‘And that I don’t want to understand anything now, either. I want to remain with the facts. I decided long ago not to understand. If I understand anything, I shall instantly be untrue to the facts, and I have decided to remain with the facts…’”

還有這段,是伊萬∙卡拉馬助夫的台詞:「『我完全不明白任何事情』,伊萬在譫妄的狀態中繼續說下去,『我現在也不想明白任何事情。我只想知道事實。我很久以前已經決定不去明白。如果我竹白任何事情,我很快就會混淆了事實,而我決定要繼續知道事實。』」

What do these passages call to mind for you? While reading the first, I couldn’t help but think of China and its fear of Christianity—and that religion’s continual appeal to activists who are drawn to its message of change through perseverance and suffering. While reading the latter, I thought of self-deception, the lie of narrative, and the era of fake news.

這些文字可有提醒您甚麼?當我讀到第一段時,我控制不到自己去想中國政權如何恐懼基督教---以及宗教如何提點倡議者要在痛苦中堅持改變。當我讀到第二段時,我想到自我欺騙、虛假的陳述以及充斥偽造新聞的時代。

And now on to Tolstoy, after a quick break for some mindless television….

接下來,當我看完一些不必動腦筋的電視節目,便要讀托爾斯泰了……

Penguin Books (UK), 1993

the kite family

Tammy Lai-Ming Ho recommends:

"The Kite Family" by Hon Lai-chu (translation by Andrea Lingenfelter)

What is Hong Kong literature? Hong Kong literature is that which takes the city, its rhythm, its people, its fears and preoccupations, as its central focus. It doesn’t matter too much who is writing, so long as the focus is Hong Kong. Chinese Hong Kong writing tends to be grounded in daily experience, and explores interpersonal relationships. It also ably reflects on the absurdity of Hong Kong’s life, both political and social. The stories in Hon Lai-chu’s The Kite Family, translated from standard written Chinese by Andrea Lingenfelter, are adept at expressing this sense of absurdity and unease. Several of the stories focus on a lone character confronted with societal expectations and prejudices, who finds himself or herself in disturbing situations that recall Kafka or episodes of The Twilight Zone: one features a man on display in a furniture showroom, while in another a man wills and trains himself to become a chair to be sat on, and in another a woman’s excessive teeth that keep on sprouting take over her face. Hong Kong is not explicitly named in the stories in The Kite Family, but the issues besetting its people are distinctly recognisable. The stories may not always be pleasant to read, but they provoke, and make the reader sympathise with inhabitants of the city just a little more.

何謂香港文學?香港文學就是把這個城市,以及它的節奏、人物、恐懼以及當務之急,放在中心點。誰是作者並不重要,只要書寫的重心在香港。香港的中文寫作主要由日常生活組成,探索人與人之間的關係。它也能夠反映香港人在政治以及社會方面的遇上的荒謬。韓麗珠的《風箏家族》,由Andrea Lingenfelter從正體中文翻譯過來,在表達荒謬及不安上都非常到位。數個故事都圍繞面對社會期望以及偏見的孤獨人物,他們都自覺在卡夫卡的世界或想到《迷離時空》中的一幕幕:其一是一個男子在傢俱展銷中成為貨架上的陳列品,另一則是一個男子訓練自己成為一張供人坐在上面的椅子,還有一個是一位女士多餘的牙齒一直在她的臉上增生蔓延。香港不是在《風箏家族》被點名的城市,但困擾書中人物的事情很容易令人認出香港。這些故事未必常令讀者快樂,不過總是引發思考,及令讀者對居住於此城的人多了一分同情。

Hong Kong University Press (HK), 2015

mrs-osmond

Timothy O'Leary recommends:

"Mrs Osmond" by John Banville

In the world of teen and young adult fiction, the phenomenon of “fan fiction” is well established. Young fans write additions, addenda, spin-offs of their favourite novels and circulate them through online platforms. In fact, Fifty Shades of Grey started out as a fan fiction related to Stephanie Meyer’s teen sensation Twilight. But this happens in more ‘serious’ fiction too. John Banville’s new novel is a kind of fan fiction homage to Henry James. It picks up where James’ Portrait of a Lady (1881) ended, with the heroine Isobel Archer (now Mrs Osmond) apparently deciding to return to her cruel and manipulative husband in Florence. James’ ambiguous ending has frustrated, and tantalized, generations of readers. But now Banville, a past winner of the Man Booker Prize (for The Sea in 2005), has given us one version of an answer to the question ‘what did Isobel do?’

在青少年小說的世界中,「同人小說」這一現象已經很普遍。年輕的崇拜者改編他們喜愛的小說,作二次創作,然後利用網上平台發放。其實,格雷的五十道陰影就是以此作為史蒂芬妮·梅爾的青年作品暮光之城。但這情況也發生在較傳統的小說上。約翰·班維爾這本新作正是向亨利·詹姆斯致敬的同人小說。它的起始正是詹姆斯的仕女圖完結之處,勇敢的Isobel Archer(現已成為Osmond太太)顯然決定回到她在佛羅倫斯那位殘忍及控制慾強的丈夫身邊。詹姆斯那留予讀者瑕想空間的結局讓一代代的讀者感到懊惱、意猶未盡。但現在,班維爾,這位曼布克獎(大海2005)的得主,讓我們思索已久的問題「Isobel做什麼了?」得到其中一個答案。

This is a book that will appeal to fans of Henry James (me!) and in particular anyone who felt a bit let down at the abrupt ending of A Portrait (also me!). Banville is remarkably successful at immersing himself in a 19th century world and in the style of Henry James. When he writes in his own voice he is already very Jamesian in his style, but in this novel his Jamesian skills are given full, richly byzantine scope. As far as the plot is concerned, I don’t want to give anything away, but Banville wisely chooses a relatively short timeframe for his story – avoiding the temptation to give a potted history of the rest of Mrs Osmond’s life. But what he writes is, undoubtedly, an Isobel for 21st century, feminist-infused sensibilities. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, true to ‘the master’ (the title of Colm Toibin’s homage to Henry James), Banville ends the novel with a delightfully ambiguous scene that perfectly mirrors the ending of James’ Portrait.

這是一本亨利·詹姆斯的祟拜者(我!)會感趣味盎然的書,尤其是為仕女圖兀然而止的結局感到失落的諸位(也是我!)。班維爾很成功地把自己融入19世紀以及亨利·詹姆斯的寫作風格中。他的自行創作本就已經很有詹姆斯的影子,但在本書中他的詹姆斯式技巧更是明顯。在故事情節發展上,縱然我不希望劇透,但班維爾聰明地為他的故事選擇了較短的時間軸---巧妙地避過了將Osmond太太的餘生沈悶地完整呈現。但他筆下的,毫無懸念是一個廿一世紀的Isobel,注入了女性主義的人物。而且,這沒有任何不正確之處。但是,忠於<<大師>>(也就是柯姆·托賓對亨利·詹姆斯的敬禮),班維爾把他的作品結局定格在與詹姆斯的仕女圖同樣留有餘地的一幕中。

So, all you Henry James fans out there, start reading!

那麼,所有亨利·詹姆斯的祟拜者,開始閱讀吧!

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (New York), 2017

the souls of china

William Nee recommends:

"The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao" by Ian Johnson

China watchers can easily get tired of books and articles that rehash top line macro trends about China’s contested economic data, dismal demographic trends, unfettered consumerism, and the worrying orientation of the Communist Party. In this sense, veteran journalist Ian Johnson’s “The Souls of China” - a book about the resurgence of religion in China - is refreshingly different.

中國監察者很容易對不斷重複的微觀主題的書籍或文章感厭倦,例如經濟數據上的論爭、慘淡的人文數據、不受約束的消費主義,還有令人憂慮的共產黨方針。在這層面,資歷豐富的記者張彥(Ian Johnson)的«中國靈魂:宗教在後毛澤東時代的回歸»,一本講述宗教如何在中國復燃的書,正好令人感覺煥然一新。

With an eye akin to a well trained anthropologist, but the pen of an engaging novelist, Johnson profiles a warm family of folk religion pilgrims in Beijing, a diligent family carrying on traditional Daoist funeral services in Shanxi, a vibrant congregation of Protestants in Chengdu, and various Buddhist and qigong masters.

張彥擁有像受過精密訓練的人類學者一般銳利的眼睛,又有像當紅小說家的筆鋒,他筆下描繪了北京一個溫馨的信奉民間宗教的家庭、山西一個努力流傳道教葬禮儀式的家庭、成都活躍的基督教徒、眾多佛教徒以及氣功師傅。

Johnson writes with clear empathy for his subjects, who in their drive for justice, their striving for community building, and desire for spiritual growth, help give even the most jaded some newfound reasons for hope.

張彥對他筆下的人物明顯抱有同理心,他寫下他們追尋公義、建設社群、追求靈性的成長,令對現實感到厭倦的人都感受到一點希望。

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (New York), 2017