Archive for July, 2010

Chinese Characters : A Journey through China by Sarah Lloyd ; A remarkable, racy book that delves into the rancour or rectitude of the people the author met

July 9, 2010

This book it dazzling for the speed with which the story had been told. A travel book largely that has the skills of someone who might have wriiten a fiction equally well. The characters and landscape change at a breath taking pace, while the author traverses the vast land. It is the economy which strikes a reader, with which the authors describes them, giving the context of China’s recent or not so recent political or social conditions, through which the characters like a librarian girl with a big birthmark on her face emerge, who is equally hurried to pour her heart to the author, as she is to define her the intricacies of the western culture.
The librarian girl translates the stories, finding the gossip of her colleagues at the office a waste of time, and worries that her birth mark redndred her unsuitable to find a husband. But she is incredulous that an Indian student in Malaysia finds the sytem as ‘Unfair’, when he fails in an examination. How can the system be unfair and the writer of the story she is translating-not lazy? Then there is her mother, who has small feet for their growth was restricted since her childhood by tight bandages or shoes, whom the author describes as a part of lost generation that witnessed and survived the rise of Mao and the cultural revolution and a marriage that took place before the revolution emancipated the women of China. But not quite, the author maintains with caliberated words, as the age old practices of female infanticide, prostitution, and the predicment of an infertile woman seem to have resurfaced. All this is succinctly described by the author in a language that has poetic elegance.
And there is the landscape that the author reaches, where it has rained regularly for a month, and the people are depressed and cold, who drink themselves unsuccessfully to sleep. The Author enjoys the rain briefly, but soon the spring arrives. And the author moves on in the giant country.
The photographs in black and white in the middle of the book are a ready reference for a reader to also see what the author is talking about so objectively. Defining the essence of China in just 270 pages is a mammoth task. But Sarah lloyd has done her best.
The book published just before the Tiananman Square tragedy. But there is nothing in the book that even implicitly hints to have foreseen that happaening in the almost immediate aftermath. The author mostly sees the poverty and primitive, unhygeinic chinese life of the characters she meets informally; or the beguiling sophistication of what is officially presented to a visitor. But the author notes that only science books are borrowed from the library and the books on arts remain largely untouched, the people in general have a great propensity to admire the western life and culture, and they feel suffocated by the state that patronises them and overseees every content of their life. But what has become of China today, the economical power house of the world, is even bigger surprise to a reader, for the author missed out on this count too. But that is the mystery of China.