One of the four great classic novels of Chinese literature, written in the 18th century. The novel has several English names: it is most commonly known as Dream of the Red Chamber, but also Story of the Stone. It spans 2500 pages over 5 volumes (David Hawkes’s translation), I got through about 200 pages of the first volume (chapter 10) then I got bored. There are way too many characters, about 30 of them are considered “main characters” and then there are hundreds of minor characters, so you often have to flip back to the family tree to figure out who is who.
The novel follows a wealthy family in Nanjing, although their fortune is gradually on the decline. The main male character is Jia Bao-yu, who is just entering puberty and likes to flirt with all the female characters. His favorite girl is his cousin Lin Dai-yu, who is good at poetry but a unhealthy, but he is destined to marry another girl, Xue Bao-chai. In total, there are 12 “Beauties of Jinling”, along with Bao-yu, all of them are teenagers.
The appeal of the novel is its details in describing life in Qing dynasty China, the especially intricate social relationships between people of different age, social status, and families. There are lots of poems interspersed throughout, but they’re harder to appreciate in the English translation.
One thing I dislike is the strong bias that rich people are considered more important and better. This is most evident considering that the 12 women that the book considers to be the most important, haven’t really accomplished anything notable other than being born into a rich family. In contrast, the maids are given dehumanizing names like “Aroma” and “Patience”. I guess it reflects the views at that time, but I don’t like how the novel views so positively the wealth and lavish lifestyles that ordinary people don’t have.