Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai, by Han Bangqing, translated from the Mandarin and the Wu by Eileen Chang and revised and edited by Eva Hung (Columbia; $29.50). This huge novel about life in the brothels of fin-de-siecle Shanghai, published in 1894, is considered one of the great works of Chinese literature, although few Chinese, it seems, have actually read it. (It may be China's "Ulysses.") This is partly because much of the book was written in the regional Wu dialect rather than in the dominant Mandarin; one suspects that the English version, coming after a Mandarin translation, arrives as a shadow of a shadow of the original. Still, the whiff of decadence is strong. Despite occasional bouts of drama--an attempted murder-suicide, adulterers caught in flagrante--the story is essentially static: a never-ending round of parties, where men grown rich from foreign trade play drinking games all night and courtesans stoke their opium pipes.

Hidden Camera, by Zoran Zivkovic, translated from the Serbian by Alice Copple-Tosic (Dalkey Archive; $13.95). "This was only a hidden camera episode, after all; everything was under control, nothing bad could happen," Zivkovic's nameless narrator says, trying to soothe himself amid the spiralling surrealities of this mystery novel. After receiving an invitation to a movie screening, he finds himself next to an enigmatic woman, watching a film of the two of them sitting on a park bench. This is the first in an increasingly outlandish chain of events, as the narrator follows a trail of invitations across a darkened cityscape. His growing paranoia leads him to suppose that he is the victim of a hidden-camera prank for television, and he starts to behave as if his every action were being filmed. Zivkovic's unexpected denouement, however, gestures toward a far stranger, possibly mystical, cause.

The Poems of Catullus, translated from the Latin, with commentary, by Peter Green (California; $24. …

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