DIGGING TO CHINA

DOWN AND OUT IN THE MIDDLE KINGDOM

Colorless recounting of the author's experiences as a teacher of English at the Medical College in Xi'an, China, and of a couple of subsequent visits to the People's Republic. Alternating between relentlessly earthbound prose and flights of turgid rhetoric, Brown tells of his duties in the classroom, of his American and Chinese colleagues, and of trips off-campus to visit such sights as the terra-cotta army of Qin Shi Huang Di, unearthed in the 1970's. He complains about the food, about the heat and cold, about the general ``greyness'' of Chinese society. Readers may feel a similar urge to gripe, for he brings neither the settings nor the people he encounters to life. Brown tells, for example, of several Americans who also teach at the college, and of a Chinese compatriot, Dr. Fu, who, separated from his wife by bureaucratic red tape, contemplates suicide. But these figures remain little more than ciphers, and one pair, a married couple with whom Brown was apparently quite friendly, disappears inexplicably from the narrative while on a trip to Tibet. Brown's handling of nature is somewhat better, however: his description of a pilgrimage to Hua Shan, one of the five sacred mountains of China, manages to build up suspense as the pilgrims inch their way up a narrow ledge to reach the peak. But his attempts at humor, as in his recounting of a visit by Queen Elizabeth II to Kunming, fail to come off: ``the Queen passes by me a second time, her hand stretched through a half-open window...like a limp flyswatter.'' And when Brown tries to add philosophical resonance, he falls into rhetorical obscurity: ``Our shadows score the earth until the dark creases fill with level dust; decomposed, we too are rendered wordless by our passage.'' Brown didn't dig far enough; for a far more penetrative look at modern China see, for example, Paul Theroux's Riding the Iron Rooster (1988).

Pub Date: June 6, 1991

ISBN: 0-939149-51-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1991

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

Did you like this book?

DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more