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This report is taken from PN Review 180, Volume 34 Number 4, March - April 2008.

Unreal Enough Frank Kuppner

No surprise, I suppose, that I should suddenly pick up Arthur Waley's The Poetry and Career of Li Po (1950) and fairly canter through his 120-page monograph on that massive Chinese literary phenomenon. (Well. Very little.) But the strange thing is, it's now over twenty years since someone I knew found this copy in a suburban sale of library disacquisitions and, a couple of days later, handed it over with the remark: 'This will probably do you more good than it would do me.' So, I must have had it lying about on the shelves, easily within reach, always just about to be read with interest, for slightly over two full decades now.

Particularly odd, given that during these years I've read a good few books by Waley, some of them much tougher propositions than this Li Po. Was the worn, institutionalised-looking copy simply too depressing in itself? Did the subject (charismatic, gifted, dipsomaniac) seem (nonetheless) somewhat too mainstream? (We must be near the blissful stage of having enough Far Eastern literature in translation - thanks, largely, to academic America - to last a life-time; wonderfully softening the guilt of never quite having got to grips with the languages in question.) Or could it even be that those jokes I sometimes make about being a creature of sloth have a sounder basis in reality than I might wish them to have?

Still, nobody's perfect. 'He appears ...


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