A young American woman sets out to discover Chinese women's lives and recovers her own; her story is painstakingly observed and gracefully rendered. In 1987, a year and a half before the Tiananmen Square massacre, Checkoway graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She and her boyfriend, a graduate student suffering form long-term writer's block and unable to finish his dissertation, fled to China. They brought their relationship--already unhappy in Iowa--to the more desolate landscape of Shijiazhuang, a sooty industrial city. Checkoway, a university English teacher, wanted to learn about the lives of Chinese women. It took some time to get past party lines and demure silences, but she eventually found friendship and stories among the women of Shijiazhuang. She met Fan Chun, whose hand was disfigured during the Cultural Revolution while she was working in a truck factory run by incompetent ideologues; Gao, who had written an autobiographical novel about her struggle to be a good Communist, though torn by her love of Buddhism; An, who was searching furiously for a foreigner to marry because she was determined to leave China. In learning about the women, Checkoway learned about herself. China had at first provided a way for her to escape from her own life. (In that context, she remembered that as a child, after her mother died, her grandmother used to send her out to play in the backyard, exhorting her to ""dig to China."") But her life in China and the stories of her friends insistently brought her back to her past: She recovered her own forgotten stories, too--the loss of her mother, her father's remarriage, and his abandonment of his children. A lyrical contribution to the body of young-American-abroad memoirs--as inspiring as Andrea Lee's Russian Journal and Mark Salzman's Iron and Silk.