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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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