Sunday, August 26, 2018

Voyages Extraordinaires #19: Les Tribulations d'un Chinois en Chine

"It must be acknowledged, however, that there is some good in life," observed one of the guests, who, leaning his elbow on the arm of his chair with a marble back, sat nibbling a root of a sugar water-lily.

"And evil also," added another, between two spells of coughing, having been nearly strangled by the prickles of the delicate fin of a shark.

"Let us be philosophers," then said an older person, whose nose supported an enormous pair of spectacles with broad glasses affixed to wooden bows. "To-day one comes near strangling, and to-morrow every thing flows smoothly as the fragrant draughts of this nectar. This is life, after all."

After these words, this easily pleased epicure swallowed a glass of excellent warm wine, whose light vapor was slowly escaping from a metal teapot.

In The Tribulations of a Chinaman in China, a charming and humorous tale, we follow the advantures of the wealthy Shanghai merchant Kin-Fo. Kin-Fo is a lover of the finer things and of the young widow Le-ou, but is also rather bored with life, and when he learns that a major investment in an American corporation has gone badly and is likely to bankrupt him, he decides he's had enough and plans to die. He takes out an insurance policy with The Centenary, an American life insurance corporation, insisting -- despite the expense -- that it cover all causes of death, with the beneficiaries being Le-ou and his philosophy tutor Wang. He then asks Wang, who is a former revolutionary, to assassinate him, which Wang agrees to do. Kin-Fo's fortunes quickly turn, and he discovers that he has good reason to live after all -- but Wang has disappeared and Kin-Fo's time is ticking away, as every moment might bring assassination. Fortunately for him, you don't make a profit in life insurance by being quick to pay out, and The Centenary is going to do everything in its power to keep him alive, with the help of its omnicompetent (and barely distinguishable) agents Fry and Craig.

I found this to be a very fun work, and it also left me wishing that Verne had written more books about The Centenary. It takes a place among my favorites in the series.

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