IN CHINA WITH HARPO AND KARL by Sibyl James

IN CHINA WITH HARPO AND KARL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Runner-up for the 1990 Western States Book Award in nonfiction: snapshots of China taken five years ago by an American teaching English at a college in Shanghai. A ""resident foreigner,"" James lived for a year in the roach-overrun Jin Jiang Hotel, where ""Zhou En Lai opened China to Nixon"" and where her bathtub attracted Chinese friends like a swimming pool. With an eye for the absurd, she negotiated the bureaucracy and observed the contradictions of the People's Republic. Here, 56 short pieces report on her encounters with banks, buses, dirt, bone-chilling classrooms, and Macbeth performed as Chinese opera, as well as on her haircut and her ""Chinese lover."" With a sharp, whimsical eye, James relishes glimpses of traditional China--a man fishing with a net that ""swirls like a flamenco dancer's skirt""--and she hates the invasion of ""tacky"" ""Western touches."" Problematically, however, these notes on China were taken in 1985 and 1986. The 1989 crackdown on the student uprising in Tiananmen Square has made the author's amused perspective and her ""romantic,"" rock-music view of Marxism seem, at best, dated. In a postscript, James asks that we think of the ""violence"" as a ""frame added later"" to her memory, where ""there is no bloodshed."" A light travelogue overtaken by events and focused on the traveler, with frustratingly few insights into the contemporary China the West so urgently needs to know.

Pub Date: Dec. 3rd, 1990
ISBN: 0934971161
Publisher: Calyx