Isn’t it strange that there will be a new film “Martin Eden” made by an Italian-French team? The reason “Martin Eden” is very important to me is because it is the first book I’ve ever bought and read completely in English. I still remember on the first page, there’s a word “smack”, for which when I looked up the dictionary I found a list of meanings and I didn’t know which meaning I should place in the context. That’s a long time ago. I chose this book not because of its content, author, or style, but rather, I am sorry to describe myself in this way, because it was on sale in a cramped damp store, in which all the books are not real books but photocopied version of them. You probably can find this kind of bookstores in many countries in Asia in those days. I was searching for a real English book to read, instead of those simplified sections of texts we read in our English classes–if only World Wide Web was present at the time. This book was lying there in a corner, several pages yellowish, obviously suffering some sort of water damage. It’s not surprising considering how damp the book store was. The subtropical weather is rainy and mold inducing, and the store was not doing anything to provide a dry environment. If a book was not sold quickly, it was prone to look unsightly and sold in a discount.
At first I was bogged down by so many words that I didn’t know. Each sentence produced at least one or two new words, the meaning of which was important to the comprehension of the whole thing. With my dictionary in hand, I struggled through with a spirit of youthful ruthlessness and was, two months later, terribly disappointed that it didn’t produce a happy ending. I thought Martin would become an acknowledged writer and get the girl, but he didn’t. I almost felt that the author deliberately made Martin to commit suicide just to suit his ideological callings, with no consideration for people like me. Yes, I struggled through the book and I was expecting a medal in the form of a happy union of the hero and the heroine.
Years later in New Jersey, I met a person who told me that one of his favorite books is “Martin Eden”. I can’t believe my ears. I like the book myself though it’s not my favorite, but I can’t imagine that he likes it. For one thing, he belongs more to Ruth Morse’s circle of bourgeois. Not that he’s wealthy in any way, but rather he is very much into good neighborhood, brand name clothes, and all those popular cliches. I don’t understand him. He could recount the story and his admiration for Martin Eden with enthusiasm, which made me believe that he really believes that he enjoys this book. I still can’t understand. Probably he thinks he should like stories like that and it’s chic to talk about stories like that. Or probably there’s a part of him that’s different from the conspicuous image he presents to the world. How complex human beings are–we can predict our friends but not always. Sometimes they surprise us.