An offbeat, erudite work of China-centered literary criticism.



This collection of cultural and literary criticism examines the ways the West and China have viewed each other over the centuries.

China has always had a complex relationship with the West, shaping foreign visitors even as it has been molded by them. Cook takes this exchange as his subject, particularly the books that have dealt with it (largely from a Western perspective). In the eponymous first essay, the author appraises the evidence of whether or not opium was in use in Confucius’ time before launching into a larger investigation of the possible influence that imported entheogens—naturally occurring psychedelics—had on the development of Chinese philosophy. In “Living the Taiping,” he evaluates a little-known 19th-century rebellion that was one of the deadliest conflicts in world history and yet one that is largely ignored in Chinese textbooks. Other essays deal with topics such as the demolition of Shanghai’s city wall, 19th-century Western travel narratives, historical true crime set in China, and evaluations of modern Chinese literature and Western novels with Chinese backdrops. Cook, an American expatriate who has lived in China for 26 years, is in some ways a living participant in the sorts of exchanges he examines. He’s a Westerner writing about China and the other Westerners who have portrayed the country in books. The texts he describes include historical novels, travelogues, popular histories, and more. His reviews move from one volume and subject to the next, adeptly drawing out common themes or compelling threads that hint at larger trends in Chinese history. The author himself is a peculiar personality, and his idiosyncratic (and occasionally off-putting) views sometimes bleed into the work. “For the right concubine,” he admits during a discussion of the historical practice, “I would pay. I think you would too. Say you encounter the woman of your dreams—one with your ideal ‘10’ body. I mean the kind of body that would make you cheat on your wife or girlfriend (or husband or boyfriend) for the very first time.” Such moments aside, readers will learn much about Chinese history and will walk away with quite a long reading list of books to explore.

An offbeat, erudite work of China-centered literary criticism.

Pub Date: March 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73227-742-7

Page Count: 265

Publisher: Magic Theater Books

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.



The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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