A young woman’s search for her identity in late-1990s China.
Growing up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., she writes, “it took a huge mental leap to imagine the farmers and petty bureaucrats of my supposed motherland—even my own relatives seemed impossibly foreign.” In 1998, when she found herself increasingly alienated from the world in which she was raised, at odds with her parents ("ceaselessly dictatorial") and desiring to travel “to exotic places far away to look for what was missing” in her life, she chose China as her destination. Inspired by the documentary that gives the book its name and harboring a wish to become a documentary filmmaker, Wang moved to Beijing. First living with relatives in the old city and later in her own insalubrious apartment on the far edges of the city’s sprawl, she took a job writing for an English-language magazine. Wang met filmmakers, expat journalists, glam-rock hairdressers and a legendary patriarch of a Peking opera family, learning about her heritage along the way. At the heart of the book is the story of her deepening connection with her family, both in China and America, and their struggle to hold on to their traditional home. On the whole, Wang delivers a sensitive narrative that takes readers effortlessly through the seemingly disparate worlds of a family divided across distance and generations, Beijing’s burgeoning ’90s contemporary art scene, the demise of China’s traditional arts and the changes wrought in the name of the city’s Olympic bid. Wang’s Beijing is gritty and bleak but also hopeful and exciting, and her affection for the city is palpable. Her writing is vivid, and the intertwining stories unfold clearly and naturally.
A deftly written and entertaining memoir that offers a fresh perspective on contemporary China and the people caught in its rapid transformation.