TWO YEARS IN THE MELTING POT by Liu Zongren

TWO YEARS IN THE MELTING POT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The unhappiness of a Chinese ""visiting scholar"" in the US. Why? Because 40-year-old journalist Liu Zongren was so homesick for his family and Chinese things, that even solicitous American friends couldn't alleviate his feelings of loneliness and isolation; because his personal insecurity, even in China--for lack of the college education, and English-language-competence, of his colleagues--was aggravated by American material wealth and alien mores: in toto, more a lesson in the pitfalls of cultural-exchange programs than a cross-cultural critique. Much of Liu's story is just dismal and sour: his reluctance to leave wife Fengyun and son Ze for two years; his discomfiture in the spacious Evanston home of a Northwestern professor, and at prestigious Medill School of Journalism; his touchiness at jokes about China, his suspicions that he was being laughed at for gaucherie. Liu transferred to the U. of Illinois at Chicago Circle, less intimidating surrounds, and moved in with a group of visiting Chinese; he had negative encounters with poor local blacks--whom he later began to understand--and many warming, multi-racial experiences; at school, he got language help, and he had lots of invitations, in and out of Chicago. Yet only on the Missouri farm of the friendly, hard-working, religious Swishers, and with a young fundamentalist proselytizer, does he seem to have felt altogether comfortable: one motif is America's abundance of rich soil, unpopulated open spaces, and untouched natural beauty, by contrast with China; another is some Americans' search for a simpler life. It may also occur to readers that the almost total isolation of Liu's Chinese housemates--without his journalistic entrÉe--was not unlike that of their forebears in mining and railroad camps; and at least partly self-imposed, defensive. (Does it make sense, in short, for middle-aged and older Chinese to go abroad for long periods without their families or an established support-structure?) A smattering of insights, in a generally glum narrative--to be balanced, for one, by Annie Dillard's attractive Encounters with Chinese Writers (above).

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1984
ISBN: 083512035X
Publisher: China Books