ENCOUNTERS WITH CHINESE WRITERS

Dillard's encounters with Chinese writers took place both in China, as part of a US delegation, and in the US, as host to a Chinese delegation: "here were the same events: formal meetings about writers' goals and cultural differences, and informal meetings of comedy or collusion." But in these brief, designedly "Chekhovian" narratives, there are few explicit contrasts or comparisons; only in the introduction does Dillard point out that, exposed to Southern California luxury beyond her experience, "the Chinese, fresh from Beijing, took it in stride." The meetings in China, mostly with literary functionaries, are notable on two scores: each side's misapprehension of the other's literature ("They go straight from Shakespeare to Catch-22, as it were, pausing at Washington Irving"; we hardly go beyond Maxine Hong Kingston, a "mishmash" to them); the American reluctance to nominate contemporary American writers for translation ("How many trees should they fell to print what, and why? Doctorow? Mailer? Roth?"). Otherwise, there is further word of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution ("Could it happen again?"), further signs of total Chinese commitment to ends (now, modernization—"the function of every shoe, every tree. . . every novelist, poet, cobbler"). And yet the Chinese delegates are warm, exuberant, humorous, poised . . . only stumped, perhaps, by Allen Ginsberg (a sly, winning presence here). Dillard is particularly taken with winsome, stylish, "young" (45) Zhang Jie and her mercurial responses—as in their joint encounter with a Malibu bathroom phone or Zhang Die's hands-over-ears reaction to Francine du Plessix Gray's street-talk metaphors. Other disarming moments occur from Disneyland to Walden Pond. Among post-Mao cultural crossovers, this small volume is overshadowed by both Arthur Miller's Salesman in Beijing (p. 247) and William Zinsser's Willie and Dwike (p. 449). Yet it has an easy charm only occasionally compromised by good fellowship sentimentality or interpretive strivings. (It also serves to offset—were that necessary—Liu Zongren's sour, disaffected Two Years in the Melting Pot, below.)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 1984

ISBN: 0819561568

Page Count: 119

Publisher: Wesleyan Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1984

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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