An odd book of essays offering inconsistent views of modern China.

At the Teahouse Café


Cook (Massage and the Writer, 2014, etc.) offers essays detailing his observations of Chinese life, culled from his years of living there.

At first glance, Cook’s collection appears to be a standard account of an expat’s observations of life in contemporary China. He writes about Chinese music and customer service culture, marvels at Chinese “disposable cities” and the “yellow fever” phenomenon, and contrasts Chinese hospitals to their American counterparts. As an American who has lived in China for many years, Cook provides insights into a culture that is notoriously opaque to outsiders, its intricacies and quirks revealing themselves only after significant immersion. Yet Cook doesn’t quite embody the expected Western expat perspective. For example, in the first essay, “Why I support China’s Great Firewall,” Cook calls for the closing off of Chinese society from Western influence, advocates for censoring breasts and cleavage from the media and public life, and makes a veiled threat about annexing Taiwan. “The notion that Chinese students don’t want to return to the motherland is a myth,” he writes. “If any of them ever tells you that, you should assume suspicious intentions.” Also, “The next Great Digital Leap Forward, I predict, will be China’s control of the entire World Wide Web, a Sinicized Internet. A cleansed and purified Internet. A socialist Internet with Chinese characteristics, from which the whole world will benefit.” After such statements, readers might await the punch line: surely this is an American expat lampooning the propaganda of the Chinese state? No punch line arrives. Cook appears to mean what he says. In later essays, a more critical version of Cook attacks Mao as well as the oppressive working conditions and dogmatic education system in modern China. The confusing ideological inconsistency distracts during even his less political essays. Cook is a solid writer with an eye for detail, but the reader is left unsure of what he’s truly trying to communicate.

An odd book of essays offering inconsistent views of modern China.

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9887445-9-2

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Magic Theater Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2015

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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