Thanks to the Sinolingua book review giveaway, I received a copy of “The Stories Behind 100 Chinese Idioms.” I have not had time to read the entire book, but here I will post a review of my initial impressions and thoughts.
The book is 283 pages long, but the print is large and easy to read, and there are lots of line drawn illustrations throughout the book. The book is a small size, about the size of a small paperback novel, so it is easy to travel with. I’ve had it in my messenger bag for a while, so I could read it when I had time at school.
The book is completely bilingual. As advertised, you get 100 stories about 100 chinese idioms. Each story is presented in Chinese characters first, then immediately afterwards an English translation is presented. All titles and footnotes are presented in both Chinese and English. Each story is short – about a few paragraphs of Chinese characters amounting to a half page to a full page of text. This is followed by a half page to a full page of English text. Some stories have additional footnotes giving more explanation for historical people or places or concepts.
Each story is illustrated with a very nicely done line drawing that depicts the story that is presented. I quite like looking at the illustrations.
The nice thing is that because each story is short and self contained, it is good for beginners/intermediates and those who prefer short bursts of reading. Since all of the text is presented in Chinese first, with an English translation after the Chinese, you are not tempted to read Pinyin, and can easily force yourself to read the Chinese characters without any English distractions. However, the English translation is readily available below should you need it. There is Pinyin under the Chapter titles, but there is no Pinyin in the main story text, which I like, because it gets rid of the possibility of “cheating” by reading pinyin that most bilingual books have.
I think that complete beginners would have trouble with this book, because there are no vocabulary definitions and no pinyin. The vocabulary is not difficult, but you should probably have at least 6 months of Chinese study and be comfortable reading a half page of basic Chinese text. High level beginner students should be able to read these stories. The English translations are not word for word, but more there for help understanding the story. I would recommend supplementing with a dictionary for unknown words.
The stories are interesting and historical. I don’t know a lot about Chinese idioms, which is why I chose to review this book, since I think I would learn quite a bit from reading it. I don’t know if they chose the 100 most famous, but the ones they chose are fairly interesting. It is much easier to understand and remember idioms if they come with a story, so this book would be helpful in understanding a lot of literary quotations and allusions in Chinese writing.
I would recommend this book to beginners and intermediate level students who are interested in learning the stories behind Chinese idioms. The information is well presented and is at a comprehensible level to a student with some prior study of Chinese characters.