Friday 18 January 2013

Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe

Ah, the last novella in mine and Lyndsey's (from Tolstoy is my Cat) Peirene Press readalong.  And it's a good one too.  Sea of Ink tells the life of Bada Shanren, born into the Chinese royal family in 1626, shortly before the dynasty is destroyed by rivals.  Abandoning his life as a Prince, Bada becomes a nomad painter, wandering between different towns and roles.  Disillusioned with humanity, his paintings focus on nature and become more simplistic over time.  Sea of Ink tells the story of both his life and the development of his art.

Despite not being a big fan of art, I really enjoyed Sea of Ink.  I liked how Weihe took us right into the mind of Bada Shanren as he painted and made the physical process of painting such a large part of the story.  Bada Shanren's quest to capture nature with a single brushstroke had a sense of poetic beauty about it, and I loved that the paintings were included in the book alongside the relevant chapters.

Sea of Ink is a tranquil book.  Although Bada Shanren faces some difficult life events throughout it's pages, the whole story is calm and quiet, which I appreciated.  Sometimes we all rush around, ignoring the world around us, and this novella works as an antidote to that.  It reminded me to take a moment to really see what is around me.  Sea of Ink is about perseverance and living your life in your own way;

"...besides the old role models you also have your own: yourself.  You can not hang on to the beards of the ancients.  You must try to be your own life and not the death of another."

The only issue I had with the book was that it didn't seem to flow as smoothly as some of the other translations from the series.  And the sacrifice for the calm, tranquil qualities in the story was some degree of disconnect from the main character.  I never felt Bada Shanren's losses heavily as Weihe keeps him at a distance from the reader.  The story was about more than the character, and I was OK with that.  

I'm glad we finished the Peirene Press novellas on a high note!  There'll be one more discussion post next Thursday and then it's all over.  I'll miss opening the cover of a new novella every Sunday evening...

Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Published: 2012
Score: 4 out of 5


  1. Considering how hectic my life has become, a tranquil book sounds entirely up my alley. I added it to my TBR list. Excellent review!

    1. My life is hectic too, tranquil was much needed!

  2. How lovely that you could finish on a high note. :)

    1. Yes, I've really enjoyed reading the novellas, my tastes have been broadened a bit.

  3. Tranquil books certainly have their place. I need something like a PD James to get my reading mojo back.