Engrossing world view,
October 7, 2012
This review is from: The Battle of Chibi (Red Cliffs): selected and translated from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Kindle Edition)
Tjoa does an excellent job at meeting his goal of providing the original in a more "readable and lively language as well as internal consistency." It's a worthwhile though not an easy read. As a boy in the book says, "I cannot remember all the names."
At the outset, the author provides useful background. The historical events were originally recounted in a classic Ming novel, "Romance of the Three Kingdoms," written in 1400 by Luo Guanzhong. In turn the "Romance" was a compilation of work by writers living in the third and fourth centuries AD. (The Arthurian legend immediately comes to mind.) Luo's version is in four volumes of 120 scenes/chapters, the first 80 of which is about the decline of the Han Dynasty and the rise of three kingdoms, a period of transition from 184 to 280 AD. Tjoa characterizes the divergence as one "between imperial unity and fragmentation."
The selections chosen from the "Romance" center on the Battle of Chibi (Red Cliffs), dated 208AD, which Tjoa points out was "the tipping point" between the Han and Three Kingdoms periods. One of the three realms, the Shu, was led by Han loyalist Liu Bei. A second, the Wei, was led by Cao Cao the Usurper. Cao's plan was to become the new unifier of China, but his ambitions disqualified him in the eyes of the other two leaders. A third realm, the Wu led by Sun Quan, lay on the fringe of what was called All under Heaven, a name, says Tjoa, that equates to a Greco-Roman term, "the whole known civiilized world." An interesting pattern emerges in the novel's three-part structure. To my eye, a dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis unifies the diversity of the structural components as well as underlining the clash of cultures. The dynasty's decline is vividly characterized by its eunuchs, warlords, and rebels.
I became engaged in the story also through the spare, dramatically staged dialogue and the pleasing literary elements. The title of Chapter 8 ("Like Fish Seeking Water") is one example of how metaphor and poetry are used to illustrate what is going on. Here's another: "Screens, decorated with feathers,/Divide the space inside/Bamboo fences and fragrant flowers/Define the space outside."
A new world order emerges from the divisiveness, and though the country is no longer unified, neither is it so insularly focused. At the end of the day, Tjoa's work is historical romance in the most classic sense of the term. It would certainly lend itself to screen adaptation.
Anne Carlisle, Ph. D., reviewer and author of "Home Schooling: The Fire Night Ball"
Original Amazon Review