Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Lure of China

It would be remiss of me not to give a quick plug for Frances Wood’s new book The Lure of China: Writers From Marco Polo to JG Ballard. It’s another in the rather lovely and nicely illustrated Catalpa Series (“China in the West: The West in China”) jointly published by Yale University Press and Joint Publishing HK Co. The series is edited by Lynn Pan who’s own Shanghai Style is also one of the series.

I’m assuming that anyone reading this blog will have read at least one or more of Frances’s books – No Dogs and Not Many Chinese: Treaty Port Life in China is just one stand out title from her among several. In The Lure of China Wood segues neatly between Marco to the Jesuits; the diplomat-scholars to Malraux and Somerset Maugham and takes in the lady travel writers, old Etonians, Bloomsbury types and the hacks that covered China.

Though there are numerous pen portraits of writers on China - some familiar; some less so. My own favourite, for what it’s worth, was Paul Claudel (left) who I knew nothing about. Claudel wrote a number of scintillating titles such as The Olive Oil Business in Fuzhou (1896) and The Packaging of Biscuits for Export (1901) which sound like my day job! But he also wrote plays, had a succession of affairs and wrote great prose – at which points our lives depart!!

I missed Frances when she spoke recently at the Shanghai International Literary Festival at M on the Bund but the good people at City Weekend magazine recorded it and uploaded it – listen here.


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