Books: Big Little Talk

Big "Little Talk"


John Day ($3).

Among the world's classic novels, the Chinese are peculiar. They are the world's longest (one runs to 127 chapters), oldest (some date back 700 years), most thickly populated (often include 100 characters). Their authors are mostly obscure. But what particularly distinguishes them is their style. Aimed at the common people, snooted by the super-pedants who monopolized Chinese "literature," frequently banned by imperial bureaucrats (who usually read them secretly), they were written in the vernacular. The least "literary" of great fiction, they mixed myth and legend with realistic anecdotes of love, family life,...

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