This open-minded, bemused portrait of a history-rich yet futuristic China beguiles.

A German journalist explores China’s mega-cities and remote outposts, takings risks that most tourists would avoid.

In this chronicle of his fourth trip to China, Orth, a former travel editor at Der Spiegel whose previous travelogues were about Russia and Iran, offers an unofficial account of “how the Chinese see the world…and about where this huge country is heading,” while acknowledging that any views formed can change. In a narrative that combines elements of memoir, travelogue, and cultural exposé, the author examines China’s infamous surveillance, state-sanctioned media, censorship, and reeducation camps, also providing snapshots of daily life that portray tech-savvy people who've mostly adapted to its breakneck pace. Deviations from the party line fascinate, and some of Orth’s hosts open up through WeChat and in-person interviews. Though they may not be a representative cross-section—“mostly middle class [people] who are cosmopolitan and exceptionally hospitable”—their stories shed light on how citizens live in a restrictive society: A subversive Beijing artist discusses the state mafia that claimed her studio. A woman motivated by the loss of her childhood home documents village traditions, impressing Orth with her innovation. An exile from the IT world embraces a Buddhist lifestyle. Even a Shenzhen policewoman disobeys workplace rules. Throughout, the author describes his newfound friends with candor, and he ably conveys the level of pollution and brash consumerism he encountered as well as the charm. His lively tales of navigating tense situations—e.g., meeting a cult leader—are particularly memorable. When he set out alone, such as in Xinjiang, where Muslim Uyghurs are persecuted, the narrative necessarily darkens. But the bulk of the narrative is far from bleak, and Orth includes clever anecdotes that stem from his “laowai” ("always a foreigner") status. Photographs and humorous mistranslations ("Be careful clothes sandwich," an escalator warning) embellish the work.

This open-minded, bemused portrait of a history-rich yet futuristic China beguiles.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77164-562-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Greystone Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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