A short, insightful reflection on the expatriate experience.

Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside

Carroll’s debut novel, a character study of two Americans teaching English in rural China, gracefully contrasts idealism and cynicism.

Epigraphs from W. Somerset Maugham and Paul Bowles evoke two precedents for this contemplative work on being a purposeless outsider. But the greatest debt is to Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. Carroll’s plot follows the uneasy relationship between two men, one older and jaded, the other young and idealistic. Thomas Guillard, a Minnesotan in his 60s, arrives in Ningyuan to work at an English language school. He has neither the passion nor affinity for teaching but persists halfheartedly—between bouts of drunkenness. Twenty-something Daniel, conversely, speaks Mandarin fluently and is popular with his students, especially enthusiastic Bella. “Daniel’s motive for moving abroad had been to reach out and learn something from the world,” which accounts for his embrace of new experiences, whether patronizing a brothel or sampling dog paw as the guest of honor at a holiday feast. There are no quotation marks, and the close third-person narration moves easily between Daniel’s and Guillard’s perspectives. The latter’s bad-tempered xenophobia emerges as he notices “the Chinese squatting…and eyeing him like children” in a bus station like “some cattle fair” and observes “the moon had risen—what a fat and ugly bitch.” Yet sympathy goes solely to Daniel, perhaps partially for autobiographical reasons—Carroll, too, taught English in China. No inner doubt or vulnerability humanizes Guillard, and the narrative unsubtly cements Daniel’s judgment: Guillard “had proven to be arrogant, lewd, and racist.” Guillard’s Scrooge-like persona doesn’t even lift for Christmas Day, when—in the novel’s standout sequence—Bella cooks him a duck. Never a romantic prospect for either man, Bella is enough of a desirable object to allow trumped-up sexual harassment charges to drive one of them away in a slightly forced plot twist. Set over one academic year, the novel has a clear mission it fulfills admirably while recalling W.G. Sebald and Ben Lerner with its picture of befuddled foreignness. A pleasingly inconclusive ending paints home and new destinations as equally appealing.

 A short, insightful reflection on the expatriate experience.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-941758-45-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Inkshares

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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