Life and work have been getting rather in the way of reading lately, so it’s as well that Peirene Press kindly sent me their latest publication, Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe, translated by Jamie Bulloch for review.
Although the back cover quotes Kulturspiegel’s description of the book as a “two-hour enchantment”, it is one that positively repays a slower approach. The meditative nature of the text, structured as 51 chapters over only 107 pages, make it ideal for dipping into. A chapter or two on the bus gives you plenty to think about for the rest of the day.
It’s a fictionalised account of the life of Bada Shanren, a hugely influential 17th century Chinese artist, and includes reproductions of 11 of his paintings. Born a prince in 1626 he survived the fall of the Ming dynasty and devoted himself to the life of a monk and artist “committed to capturing the essence of nature with a single brushstoke”. The book offers an insight into a period of history of which I knew precisely nothing, and introduced me to an artist and style of painting that were equally unfamiliar. Weihe describes the way each picture is created with words as spare as the brushstrokes on the page, captured evocatively in Bulloch’s translation.
My one quibble is with this line from the blurb:
Then the rulers of the new Qing Dynasty discover his identity and Bada must feign madness in order to escape.
Although this is indeed what happens in the book, it implies a much greater level of action and adventure than is actually forthcoming. All the same, this is a book that has fitted well into both my life and my luggage lately, and one that I am sure I’ll come back to. Fascinating and intriguing.