Amherst Magazine

What They Are Reading

Paola Zamperini, assistant professor of Asian languages and civilizations, talks about the books on her figurative bedside table:

The most fascinating book I have read recently is 2666, by Roberto Bolaño. I read it in Spanish the first time in January 2008, during my convalescence from a surgical event that required me to take a hefty dose of painkillers.

Then, it struck me as a fantastic tapestry of a story, much more so than most of Bolaño’s previous work.  But as months went by, I began to worry that the fact that I had read it under the influence, as it were, had somehow distorted my perception. So I reread the first three volumes (out of five) last June, this time in Italian. I found it even more fascinating and complex than I remembered, but unfortunately, the Italian translator had not yet finished the last two volumes. I was not able to reread the text in its entirety until it came out in English in this country in fall 2008. This time I read the whole novel in a handful of days (mostly nights), from beginning to end, and I am still wonder-struck by the talent and the greatness of Bolaño’s work, no matter what language I read him in.

I have just finished reading Andre Bely’s Petersburg, one of the most colorful and luminous stories I have ever read. At times, opening its pages, I felt like I was entering a veritable prism of colors and light; it must be superb in Russian. Right now I am reading, for the nth time, an amazing 16th-century Chinese novel, 金瓶梅 (Jin Ping Mei or The Plum in the Golden Lotus), for a course I am teaching. It is a brilliant text, and I am having a great time navigating it with my students and thinking through it with them.

As for the future, I am impatiently waiting to get Alfred Doblin’s first novel (in English; my German is a bit nonexistent!), titled The Three Leaps of Wang Lun: A Chinese Novel. Published in 1913, it tells the story of an obscure sect in 18th-century China. It is described as an “expressionist novel,” and I find the combination of German expressionism and late imperial Chinese Buddhist millenarism titillating, so I hope it will be worth the wait. I am still hoping, a little against hope by now, that one of my most beloved Italian authors, Andrea Camilleri, will come out of his golden retirement and write yet another installment of Commissario Montalbano’s inquiries. Camilleri writes the dialogue of his characters in Sicilian, and he concocts on the page sublime depictions of food, death and corruption.

Last but not least, I cannot wait for summer to get here to begin reading an 18th-century Chinese novel titled 姑妄言 (Guwangyan or Words of No Consequence). It is a very little-known text, even among die-hard sinologists, because it was only recently rediscovered by a Russian sinologist. But supposedly it is one of the most scandalous and wicked stories ever written in Qing vernacular fiction, so it should be fun!