I’ve recently sort of discovered that ghost stories and detective novels are where it’s at for practicing reading. The cliches in a Chinese murder mystery are exactly the same as they are anywhere: hard-boiled cop, confused rookie, seductive woman, shady business, and definitely a chase scene. It’s easier to follow a story when you have a semi-expectation of what’s supposed to happen. They get hard when people start talking about blood spatter and ballistics, but you can kind of get the gist. Ghost stories are the same way – a scene of normalcy is set, followed by some red-flag strangeness that everyone completely ignores because they don’t believe in the supernatural, followed by some myths and legends, or maybe a mysterious old man, or maybe a body goes missing, and then things really freaky. Again, the read gets hard when characters start talking about the mystic books of old, or funeral customs, so you should probably be reading this with the help of Pleco (which I do), but The Last Onmyoji is accessible enough that those parts shouldn’t totally derail you. Highly recommended.
This really is worth a go for readers at almost all levels. The read is late-intermediate, but using Pleco, late-stage beginners and early-intermediates will be able to understand large chunks of it, enough to motivate you to puzzle through the parts you don’t get, more so because this is being told in first-person. Remember, now, that the beginning of a book is usually the hardest as you try to get a sense of the story. Once the story gets rolling, it’s easier to flow with it. Advanced readers may just appreciate learning a bit of spooky vocab.
The segment that I”m translating here doesn’t have any ghostly bits in it, this is the first chapter to get you going on the story. It’s packed full of Chinese village culture, and some parts at the end that would be considered extremely un-PC in the west: a little anti-Japanese talk, and a little bit about buying women, the rarities of college education in the countryside: the realities of village life in China, even these days.
There’s a lot I could talk about in here, but I do like the word 投 tóu – This word had a ton of meanings. Imagine slipping a piece of paper into a suggestion box. Got it? That’s what this word embodies, that action, or anything related to a similar action of taking a flat object and dropping it into a slot, literally or figuratively. So it can mean to “vote”, as in an election, because you’re submitting a ballot. It can mean to “slide” an envelope into a letter box. In this case, it means to “submit” a resume while seeking a job offer. We don’t have a word for that concept in English, I think.