Antonio Garrido: The Corpse Reader

The Corpse Reader is a fictionalized account based on the man known as “the founding father of forensic science”. Song Ci lived during the medieval period in China and wrote the “Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified“, which has been ultimately translated into English and many other languages.

Typically, I figure a book is a good book if I couldn’t put it down and read it straight through with only time to eat and sleep, run a couple of errands, etc. I put the book down and never felt like I had to rush back to the story.  However, The Corpse Reader is a different kind of book.  I thought it was a great story of good translation (I say good, because I am not a translation expert – everything made sense and seemed to have been translated well – Translation by: Thomas Bunstead).  It flowed nicely but was fast paced enough to keep my attention every time I picked it up. When I wasn’t reading the book, I did wonder what was next for Ci (the main character).

I loved that there were twists and turns that weren’t apparent.   Though I like to read a good crime story, I don’t very often because the twists are obvious and after figuring out more than two, reading any more of the book seems like a waste of time.  So, I was thrilled by the mystery and intrigue in this particular book.

The idea to write a fictionalized account about an actually influential person in history was a good one. Without knowing too much about Chinese history, I thought the story was possibly plausible. That said, I’m not sure I was ever really able to set myself in the 12th century China as it was described in the novel. I actually found myself thinking about Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth.

I think my enjoyment of The Corpse Reader would have been incredibly different if I hadn’t had the academic enhancement of reading The Good Earth in a high level literature class. I would not have had a vague understanding of the cultural implications and societial norms as described in The Corpse Reader.  Also without the Pearl Buck experience, I wouldn’t have furthered my reading with Adeline Yen Mah’s Falling Leaves or read Zhu Xiao-Mei’s The Secret Piano. These books helped me to immerse myself more into the world of The Corpse Reader, but I was never able to get to 12th century China. And I guess that may be the downfall of writing a book based on a historical figure – the time period is defined.  Its not as easy as defining time period as post-war China, or leaving it completely undefined because the familial system and poverty is enough to define the period as a multitude of eras.

I’m not sure if the enjoyment factor would be the same for someone who has little experience with stories based in China’s rich past. However, The Corpse Reader is a really good crime novel with an early forensic science spin added to it for good measure.

The Corpse Reader would be an excellent summer vacation read, because it doesn’t require too much time, and it is easy to get back into after being put down for a while.

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