A former journalist and current professor searches for the rare porcelain buried by his great-great-grandfather in 1938, when Japanese invaders approached his property in Xingang, China.
We don’t learn until near the end what (if anything) Hsu discovered on his remarkable odyssey, which took lots of time and required confronting some tricky, even ominous, forces. His search involved the interpretation of a number of stories coming from family members—some, like a grandmother, were very reluctant to talk about certain aspects of the past—descendants of former neighbors, museum employees, experts in ancient porcelain, and local and regional authorities. The author traveled to Shanghai to begin his search, gaining employment with a relative and facing the frustrating knowledge that his understanding of Chinese language and custom was not sufficient for his needs. So he embarked on various plans of study and eventually became more or less competent. As he tells his story, he has to bring us along carefully, for he (correctly?) assumes that most readers do not know much about Chinese history and geography, and so he tells us a lot about the former, especially, often to the eye-glazing point. He also interweaves much family history—again, sometimes to an excessive degree. What fascinates him about his family will not always transfer to his readers, but his persistence in the face of numerous obstacles is beyond admirable. He journeyed to a host of remote locations—including, of course, the very much changed family property, where he eventually figured out how he could dig without too much official interference—and endured all sorts of reluctance and doubt from a variety of relatives and strangers. He offers plenty of intriguing information about Chinese history and culture, from wild Shanghai traffic to family dynamics.
Some first-rate detective work sometimes obscured by excessively thick historical shrubbery.