Reading Chinese Classics: ‘Six Records of a Floating Life’ by Shen Fu

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always known that I’d slowly make my way through those books that people consider Classics. Yet, somehow I found myself falling into the trap of only ever reading Western ones. In fact, the majority I’d read and planned to read were originally written in English.

My mother is Chinese, and I really wanted to be able to connect with the literature that she grew up reading in school (I later found out that she actually read an abridged version of War and Peace, but that’s hardly the point). And so, I’m going to write up a series of posts all about the Chinese classics that I’ve decided to tackle.

Of course, I have to do a wee disclaimer. I’m reading translations. Translating is darn hard work to do well, and I have to recognise that translations, no matter how good, always lose a little bit of magic.

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On to the first book! I didn’t want to jump into the deep end, and was recommended a short one that I might enjoy. And so, I bought a copy of Six Records of a Floating Life by Shen Fu. More specifically, I picked up the Penguin Classics edition which was translated by Leonard Pratt.

It’s a lyrical autobiography. Told in four chapters, it is also incomplete. Although it begins with Shen Fu apologising for his inability to write well, the rest of the novel proves that this is far from true.

I most enjoyed the first half of the novel. It details the relationship between the author and his wife, Chen Yun. His love for her is apparent, and the way he writes about it is heart-warming.

The second half of the book, I found a bit slower. Lacking the romance of the first half, it was a little less poetic and not as interesting. Nonetheless, it was still beautifully written and a joy to read.

As my first foray into Chinese classics, I’m so very happy with my decision. Six Records of a Floating Life was a wonderful book and a great way to dip my toes into this rather intimidating genre. For those of you interested in doing the same, I definitely think this is a good place to start!

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2 thoughts on “Reading Chinese Classics: ‘Six Records of a Floating Life’ by Shen Fu

  1. This is a great idea! Until you mentioned it, I didn’t realise that the only classic books I have read are Western, too. Shame on me! I’ll have to follow your footsteps and step out of my comfort zone. Great review!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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