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SCATTERED SAND

THE STORY OF CHINA'S RURAL MIGRANTS

A grim but keen view of the dark underside of China’s prosperity.

A Taiwanese-born investigative journalist reports on the conditions facing migrant workers in China’s rural interior.

Hsiao-Hung Pai (Chinese Whispers: The True Story Behind Britain's Hidden Army of Labour, 2008) brings her knowledge of China’s history to this detailed examination of the plight of the millions of peasants searching for work in China’s booming cities and, failing that, in other countries. She recounts her interviews with individual peasants, during which she urged them to describe their experiences in their own words. The author traveled from Russia, where the closing of a large outdoor market in Moscow sent thousands of Chinese migrant workers back home, to China’s industrial northeast, to the province of Sichuan, the site of a devastating earthquake, and to its southern manufacturing centers. She also spent time in Guangdong province, where a special economic zone with thousands of new factories has brought great prosperity to the upper-middle class but for migrant workers has meant exploitation, homelessness and suicide. At one point, the author accompanied her mother on a trip to her home province of Shandong, a trip that provides her with the opportunity to fill in readers on family history as it entwined with Chinese history. In Fujian province, where tens of thousands of peasants have sought jobs overseas, many going to Japan, the United States and Europe, she introduces readers to Xiao Lin, whose misadventures in trying to escape to the West are material for a book of its own. Her final stop was the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China’s northwest, where the Uighur ethnic minority are considered security risks and endure harsh discrimination and grinding poverty. Unlike Michelle Dammon Loyalka’s Eating Bitterness (2012), which concentrates on a few rural migrants in one city, Hsiao-Hung Pai's examination ranges across the whole country and provides background information on factory conditions, political corruption and worker unrest.

A grim but keen view of the dark underside of China’s prosperity.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-84467-886-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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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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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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