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Title: 福爾摩斯: 血字的研究
Translated title: Sherlock Holmes
Language: Chinese
Year: 2008

After having finished reading 世界偉人傳: 牛頓 (the one about Newton), I immediately decided to read the first of two Sherlock Holmes books I picked up at a nearby super market. I bought them because I thought it would be good practice to read stories I was already familiar with (see A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four among others), as well as for the nice pictures (it’s nice to read Chinese books without the manga for once).

It turns out that even if I feel that the stories are familiar, as well as the characters, I don’t quite remember the actual mysteries. I can recall parts of the solution, recollect some details about characters or setting, but I can’t say it felt like re-reading something. The stories themselves are shortened and simplified, but I think that isn’t such a big problem. Sherlock Holmes was never about the story or the mystery for me, but rather the character and his manners. This is of course difficult to appreciate in another language, especially when the text is simplified so there might not even be much character left (Holmes’ opium is definitely not there, for instance).

The level of the Chinese is unexpectedly higher than that of the book about Newton, even though the book spans only 90 pages, giving a total of around 12 000 characters (compared to 30 000 for the Newton one and 7 000 for my first book). With larger characters, more pictures and fewer pages, one would assume the text is easier, but that isn’t the case. However, the more relaxed layout makes it a bit easier to read and since this is more or less exactly what I want, I’m satisfied. Perhaps I would have liked to get more characters for the money I paid (all books I’ve reviewed so far cost below NT$100/25 SEK/3 USD).

It’s a bit annoying that proper names are not underlined, which makes the reading a lot harder. This might not be obvious for those of you who haven’t read Chinese, so I’ll try to explain. Since Chinese is written in one long sequence, without gaps between words, it’s sometimes difficult to know if a character is supposed to be read together with the previous one, the next one or solely on its own.

Proper names are a pain because as a beginner, I can’t easily distinguish them from the narrative. It mean that I might look in a dictionary for a while before realising that the word actually is a transliteration for “Camebridge”. The prime example here is Sherlock Holmes himself, whose surname in Chinese is 福爾摩斯. The characters themselves don’t mean anything in particular put together like that, but since they are pronounced “fu er mo si”, some brilliant mind thought they could represent “Holmes”. How they got from “Holmes” (one syllable, beginning with an “h”) to “”fu er mo si” (four syllables, beginning with an “f”) is totally beyond me. I have seen bad transliterations of English names before, but this is probably the worst.

Still, this is pleasant reading, although perhaps I would have preferred longer and more fleshed out stories (there are three right now, competing for only 90 pages). I have already finished reading the second book and will provide a review shortly. There are more books in this series, but since I have a couple of books present Chinese classics to children, that seems a bit more interesting. Stay tuned.

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