PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
Translator: Mike Mitchell
A 10th-century Chinese mandarin travels forward in time, and writes letters home reporting on the strange land of 'Zha-ma-ni' in which he is surrounded by giants with big noses, and frightened by the iron carriages called 'mo-tao-ka'. We gradually realise that he is in present-day Munich, and the hapless voyager's encounters with modern life and love, make delightful reading.
Witty, lively and idiosyncratic.
Dedalus is to be thanked for introducing us to Herbert Rosendorfer.
We view contemporary society through the eyes of one unaccustomed to our ways, which proves to be both a refreshing and enlightening experience.The author's prose sparkles with an idiosyncratic humour, resulting in a charming read.
Letters Back to Ancient China is a satire on modern life in the vein of Gulliver's Travels, with a little bit of Asterix thrown in. And though it may lack the imaginative scope of the latter, it is not without its own peculiar charm.
The story sees a tenth-century Chinese civil servant journey forward through time to 1980s Munich. From here he sends home a series of letters filled with fantastic tales from the future.
Our hero, Kao-Tai, is beautifully drawn as an inquisitive and sexually voracious time-traveller. Appalled by the noise and dirt of our world, he comes to view our society as terminally obsessed by progress, without care for the consequences.
Whilst some of the observations are a little obvious -'aren't we silly rushing about all the time'- Rosendorfer's lightly comic touch and the effervescence of his main character, keep things racing along. And here translator Mike Mitchell should take great credit too.
More contentious is the elitist nature of the few things Kao-Tai comes to value. Our ‘neutral’ hero, unsullied by this filthy world, likes expensive champagne, Beethoven, Mozart, Goethe and Titian, but sees nothing worthwhile in modern music, sport, TV, beer; in fact just about everything popular apart from sex.
The marriage of high-culture snobbery with playful fantasy is a combination that, strangely struck a chord in eighties Germany. Since publication more than twenty years ago, Letters Back to Ancient China sold over two million copies.
Of course this new paperback translation won't repeat that success in Britain, but it shouldn't be without readers. People who think modern life is rubbish, and find pleasure only in champagne, Beethoven recitals and sex will adore it. Everyone else will be gently entertained.