Kirkus Reviews QR Code
IRON AND SILK by Mark Salzman Kirkus Star


by Mark Salzman

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 1986
ISBN: 1412812690
Publisher: Random House

Terrific debut by a 22-year-old who writes with limpid simplicity, grace and at times tingling fire, about Ms two-year teaching fellowship in China's Human province. A Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in Chinese Language and Literature from Yale, Salzman was an English teacher at Hunan Medical College in Changsha from 1982 to 1984. His descriptions of the tremendous pressures on Chinese family life under communism can be hair-raising: it's not just the outdoor plumbing and smell of feces everywhere, or the horrors of transportation, or the vast absence of most consumer goods we take for granted. The point is made when Salzman visits a home and tries to teach a young boy how to use Mark's present of watercolors, brushes and charcoals. The father, mother and grandmother sit right down and hover over every line the nervous child makes, and one feels all of China scolding the kid and getting on his back. However, visiting another family, Salzman plays a Bach sonata on his cello, and the whole family creates an accompanying uproar throughout his playing to show their enjoyment. Especially delightful are Salzman's challenges in overcoming the stifling rote methods of his Chinese students learning English—students who fear criticism at every level of life. Exhilarating.