This is a post about two books: one found in the basement of Housman’s bookshop the other at Cairo book fair. Both were printed in Beijing (or Peking as it is called in these books).
It is a collection of short stories by Lu Hsun published by the Foreign Languages press in both English and Arabic. The first story in the collection “Diary of a Madman” was apparently one of his most famous (you will have to forgive my ignorance of Chinese literature) and it is a fitting one to include in this blog.
A man goes to visit a childhood friend who he has heard is ill. When he arrives he does not find his old friend but his older brother who tell him about the illness which afflicted the narrator’s friend but has now been cured. All that is left is a diary that the man kept during the period of his illness. The narrator reads this discarded old diary to find the paranoid ravings of a mad man convinced that the people of the village are cannibals and that they are conspiring to eat him. It can be (and, of course, has been) read as a critique of the feudal system of China. The story, however, ends on a note of optimist for the future which is the title of this blog “Perhaps there are still children who have not eaten men?Save the children…”
For me, these books represent a mirror image of that short story. They are relics of an internationalist hope that is fading not the rising of a new hope that Lu Hsun wanted.
The first one I acquired came with a short dedication:
With best wishes from V. Joseph
(I don’t know what the Chinese says)
Peace on Earth
The identity of V. Joseph remains elusive but Felix Pirani was a theoretical physicist with left-wing politics who was an enthusiastic member of the CND.
I picked up the Arabic version of the book at this year’s Cairo Book Fair:
I have a slight obsession with mid-twentieth century socialist internationalism. I am not blind to the fact that much of it was often Soviet propaganda (or in this case perhaps Chinese propaganda). For me, though, it is the opposite of the narrator of Lu Hsun’s “Diary of a Madman” picking up his friends old writings. In that story we see a man driven mad by the injustices of his world. In these books we can see the hopes of people like Felix Pirani for a better, more equitable world. That can at least provide some hope in times when internationalism seems a spent force.