It’s summer, the season of reading, and I thought I’d recommend a few books you can bring with you on your travels. Now these book recommendations are for newbies about China. If you are a China enthusist you have probably read all of these long ago, but if you haven’t, then I would recommend them as they are some of the most well-known, and truly excellent books about China.
Wild Swans – Jung Chang
Yes, yes, a classic book that millions have read, but it is with good reason. No books about China (or any subject really sticks in my memory like this one. A true story told through three generations–the author (who lived and studied abroad) — the mom (who was a member of the red guard) and the grandma — who had her feet bound. I foten marvel at old people in China, and wonder how much they went through to get to this point and the amazing changes they have seen in their lifetime. No book explains the experiences better.
Wuhu Diary: On Taking my Adopted Daughter Back to her Hometown in China – Emily Prager
Just as the subtitle indicates, this is a memoir about a mother who wanted to bring her four-year-old daughter back to the place she was adopted, before all memories and traces of her past were lost. They spend months in a small city, trying to get admittance into the orphanage her daughter was left at, getting to know the people who may have been the girls ancestors and even visiting the spot on the street where the police found the abandoned baby. The thing I liked about this book is the mother’s journey of realization. After all, her asian daughter was growing up in white America, something she took for granted until suddenly she was in China where she was the odd duck out. She was able to understand more of her daughters feeling of exclusion in white society. I also liked the daughters pure, innocent reactions to understanding adoption and where she came from. Anyway, it’s a great read, especially to help understand the struggles of multi-cultural adoptions.
Foreign babes in Beijing – Rachel DeWoskin
A memoir about an American who had a normal job during the day, and filmed a Chinese soap at night. This takes place in the early 90’s when China was opening up to the west more and has some hilarious/ridiculous stories in this. It’s a fun read, perfect for summer, and is certainly unique in the world of China memoirs.
Anything by Peter Hessler
It’s almost a contractual agreement that when mentioning books about China you must mention Peter Hessler. Okay, I joke, but barely. Probably the best-known writer about China even though he’s no longer living here, his three books are modern classics, especially his first one River Town.
What’s on my Kindle for me to read this summer:
China Road – Rob Gifford
Recommended by my favorite librarian (Hi Lisa!) this book is a fitting companion for my summer travels as it chronicles a road trip across China’s old Silk Road. Ya know, the same road I’ll be taking this summer. (Though I’ll be taking the train.) A China road trip book while actually on the same road trip? How could I not read it?! Anyway, it has great reviews and I’m sure I’ll like it.
What I want to read next:
The Soong Sisters – Emily Hahn
This is the true story of three amazing women who changed the history of China. Chinese, but educated in the west, these three sisters became the richest and most powerful women in China in the 20’s and 30’s. The oldest sister married the wealthiest man and devoted herself to helping the soldiers fight the Japanese. One was married to Sun Yat-Sen, but then changed her mind and joined the communist battle in mainland China, rising high in the ranks, and the third was married to Chiang Kai-Shek. These women weren’t just meek wives, but equal partners in their marriages and political struggles. Anyway, they sound like bad ass women and I’d love to read more about them.
I liked River Town, although Peter gets a little insufferable at times. Still, he taught me quite a bit about my in-laws and their parenting styles. (Too late, of course, but fascinating anyway. Loved his comparison to American teaching!))
And my summer reading list grows…
I don’t know whether it says anything about the quality of his books, but Hessler is widely dismissed by white expats as a CCP sympathiser/stooge.
Really Suigetsu? Actually, I’ve never heard that about him. I know a lot of people hate him because he wrote the book a lot of writers in China want to write, haha. If people think he is a sympathizer/stooge I wonder what they would think of me!