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. 12th, 1984
ISBN: 0819561568
Page count: 119pp
Publisher: Wesleyan Univ. Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1984


FictionTHE MAYTREES by Annie Dillard
by Annie Dillard
NonfictionFOR THE TIME BEING by Annie Dillard
by Annie Dillard
FictionTHE LIVING by Annie Dillard
by Annie Dillard