Monday, April 27, 2009

Nonfiction Monday--China Edition!

Well, we seemed to have maybe skipped spring and gone straight to summer. Seriously, we already turned on the AC at home. IN APRIL. It's crazy.

Also, just a head up, I might not be doing the 48-hour-challenge this summer, due to possible vacation plans. As much as I want to, that's the only weekend available for me to take advantage of dirt-cheap plane tickets to see my parents. And I want to see them more! We're still waiting to see if I can get the time off work though, so maybe, maybe not. Hopefully not.

Anyway, it's Monday! So that means it's time for a little nonfiction. Both are adult books, but I think the first one in particular will appeal to teens, as the protagonist is rather young for most of the book.

"Socialism Is Great!": A Worker's Memoir of the New China Lijia Zhang

When she was 16, Lijia's mother gave up her factory job so Lijia could have it. It was a practice known as dingzhi where a worker could retire and his or her child could have the job. Lijia's mother worked at a large factory, considered an excellent choice by everyone except Lijia. She wanted to graduate from high school and go to university and become a journalist. She didn't want to be a worker in the factory.

Covering most of the 80s in China, the reader gets an immediate portrait of life inside a Chinese factory, a changing China, and mostly a young girl growing up and coming of age all while trying to roll with the punches that life delivers in her quest to go continue her schooling and become a journalist.

I was looking most for the changing China shown in this book (because that's what I'm into) and it was there. However, there are also wonderful scenes and descriptions of office politics, both in the day-to-day things we all deal with world wide, and in the larger context of Communism and Political Meetings and Ideology. Lijia also ages nearly a decade, starting at the age of 16 so we see her coming of age as she tries to find balance between daughter and primary wage-earner, worker and student, and where is the time for romance?

My one complaint is that we know Lijia succeeds. I mean, she wrote the book! Also, her jacket bio says "Her articles have appeared in numerous international publications including South China Morning Post, the Japan Times, the Independent (London), the Washington Times, and Newsweek. She is a regular speaker on BBC radio and NPR."

BUT when the book ends, Lijia is still a factory worker, leading protests in Nanjing, in conjunction with the ones happening in Tian'anmen Square in Beijing. We know she'll be OK, and we know her dreams come true, but I would have *loved* an epilogue or something showing how she made that final leap to get to where she is now!

Very readable and enjoyable, I think even for the non-Sinophile.

The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories: China from the Bottom Up Liao Yiwu

I was disappointed by this book, which I don't think is fair, because I thought the book would be something that it wasn't, and I had a hard time judging the book on it's own merits instead of my preconceived notions.

Corpse Walker is a series of discussions with members of China's lower classes. Some are actual interviews and some are reconstructed later after the conversation took place (often without the aid of notes or anything.)

Many of the interviews focus on the past-- a lot of memories of the Cultural Revolution. I thought it would be more modern people and modern stories, but seems to largely be interviewing elderly citizens about their life stories. There is nothing wrong with this, but it's not what I was expecting.

Also, Liao is not a journalist. These are not impartial interviews. He lays into some of these people when he disagrees with them, he offers a sympathetic ear to others. There were a few people that I wanted Liao to push back a little more on and he didn't.

These are dialogues, written in script-form, so they're easy to read. One translation quirk is over use of 'by the way.' Everyone says it ALL THE TIME in these dialogues. In Mandarin, this is fine, but it sounds really weird in English. It's interesting, but my favorite parts were ones that focused on contemporary issues, and they were a minority in this work.

Roundup is over at Picture Book of the Day!

1 comment:

Abby said...

*nods* One of my college roommates is being ordained as a rabbi on the Saturday of the 48HBC, so I might try to participate but I don't know if I'll be able to read at all...