Translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt
The Boat to Redemption focuses on the boat people of a Chinese River. The central character is Dongliang, who was once the revered grandson of a revolutionary martyr, but when his ancestry is questioned his life quickly deteriorates.
The main theme of the book is the relationship between Dongliang and his father. It is essentially a coming of age story showing how hard it is to adjust to adulthood, but although it is a very Chinese novel, similar in style to Brothers, the themes of love, heartache and fear are universal.
The book was interesting at the beginning, but the pace was quite slow. It picked up at is progressed and by the half way stage I was captivated – the characters were fascinating and so different from those in Western novels as their superstitions and respect for authority add a different dimension to their problems.
I don’t have a big knowledge of Chinese culture and so I felt that some things went over my head – there were several points where there appeared to be a wise saying, but it didn’t translate well into English. This wasn’t because of a translation problem (I think Howard Goldblatt did a great job) but because there wasn’t an equivalent phrase in English.
As with many other Chinese novels there was an obsession with genitalia in this book. I found that some of the scenes put me off my food for a few hours, but there was no explicit sex or extreme violence, so most people will cringe rather than be offended.
I’m sure that this book would be even more impressive if read in the Chinese, but even with a limited knowledge of the culture there is still a lot to enjoy.
Recommended to fans of Chinese literature.