A vivid portrait of the migrant experience in the burgeoning western Chinese city of Xi'an, told through eight profiles of peasants who left their villages in search of a better life.

In 2006 and 2007, Loyalka, a freelance journalist who has lived in China for years, interviewed and closely observed men and women who have endured great hardship with spirit and determination, a situation summed up by the Chinese word chiku, meaning "eating bitterness." All live in the rapidly disappearing old village of Gan Jia Zhia, which is surrounded by the city and adjacent to the modern and expanding High-Tech Zone. Among Loyalka’s subjects are a family that spends long hours running a vegetable stand, an illiterate knife sharpener whose equipment is mounted on a bicycle that he pedals through neighborhoods in search of work, a live-in nanny who cares for a rich couple's house and children in order to make a better life for her own, teenagers entering into the beauty industry and a young man working in the recycling business who lives atop a mound of old newspapers. Two women are depicted as inventive and industrious supporters of shiftless and incompetent husbands. The final profile is of a businessman who represents for Loyalka the future direction of China, for he has achieved material success and is directing his energies toward finding spiritual satisfaction in doing social good. The author brackets her eight up-close profiles with an introduction and an epilogue that give a broader picture of the plight of migrants who no longer fit into the farm life they have left behind yet lack the education and skills valued in city life, of the contribution they are making to the booming Chinese economy, and of the efforts that the Chinese government is making to deal with the problem of millions of peasants pouring into urban centers. An insightful look at the hard lives of real people caught in a cultural transition.    


Pub Date: March 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-520-26650-6

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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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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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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