Sunday 28 January 2018

Review: Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Lu Xun

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recenty completed an online course on edX HarvardX: HUM12.2x Modern Masterpieces of World Literature ( which introduced me to Lu Xun. I didn't recall having heard of him before and thinking this to be a gaping hole in my knowledge of world literature I have been setting about recitifying it.

First a bit about the author - Lu Xun (1881- 1936) grew up in a family whose wealth was declinging rapidly . He was educated at government schools, went to study in Japan both lack of funds ended this. In his lifetime he saw the long-standing Qing Dynasty Empire committed to ancient traditions give way in 1911 to a revolutionary but flawed republic, which led him, as one of many intellectuals dissatisfied with the direction of the new government, to take part in the New Culture movement. He never joined the Chinese Communist Party. In 1918 Lu wrote the first short story published in his name, Diary of a Madman, for the magazine New Youth. The story was praised for its anti-traditionalism, its synthesis of Chinese and foreign conventions and ideas, and its skillful narration, and Lu became recognized as one of the leading writers of the New Culture Movement. Nobel laureate Kenzaburō Ōe describes him as "The greatest writer Asia produced in the twentieth century". The 3 yearly Chinese Lu Xun Literary Prize is named after him. His stories satirized outmoded and fossilised traditions and conventions while revealing reservations about China’s new directions. His narrative experimentation and use of vernacular language helped to modernize Chinese writing. His work was inspired by his familiarity with foreign languages and literature - the story was inspired by the work of the same name by Gogol whose "Dead Souls" he translated.

The story, “The Diary of a Madman” is available online at . It is highly ambiguous, with an unreliable narrator and unreliable preface. Is it an allegorical attack on ancient Confucian values or the ravings of a delusional voice? Whether you read it straightforwardly as the diary of the man suffering from a persecution complex, or as a more politically charged narrative, it certainly holds yours attention as the narrator's madness spirals onward. 13 short sections constitute the diary read by the narrator of the preface. The diary purports to be that of the now recovered, once sick brother of the narrator's friend. They chronicle the spiralling suspicion he feels for those around him from the neighbour's dog to one of his tenants to a woman in the street to his own brother, analysing it as being due to the fact that they are all man-eaters, even to the point of rationalising his own little sister's death to having been eaten by their brother.
ashrambings verdict 4* Very pleased I "discovered" this author

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1 comment:

  1. There is also an audio available at