Tag Archives: Sociology

Images of America: Chinese in Hollywood by Jenny Cho and the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California

Chinese in HollywoodIn spite of a history that spans centuries – especially in California – Hollywood has long remained an elusive destination for Asian Pacific Americans seeking not always celluloid glory, but at the very least, mere participation and fair representation. From immigration restrictions, limited casting opportunities, miscegenation laws, and blatant racism, even in the 21st century, APAs in Hollywood remain rare.

Part historical record, part neighborhood photo album, this slim volume provides an introductory, skeletal overview of Chinese Americans in front of as well as behind the camera. From the early 1900s through Ang Lee’s stupendous second Best Director Oscar in 2013, “[t]his book … examines how Hollywood functions not only as a geographical area but also as a conceptual idea as the entertainment capital of the world,” the two-page “Introduction” opens. Over 200 black-and-white photographs are divided into chronological chapters, beginning with the silent “Early Years” featuring Marion Wong, the first Chinese American woman who wrote, produced, and directed her own films, to the first Chinese American movie star Anna May Wong, to the opening of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (which has since morphed into TCL Chinese Theatres, complete with IMAX 3D).

“1930s and 1940s” introduces the one of Hollywood’s most respected cinematographers, 10-times nominated, twice Oscar-winning James Wong Howe, who also ran the Ching Howe Restaurant in North Hollywood. Benson Fong also did double duty as restaurateur and Hollywood icon as “Number Three Son” in the era of Charlie Chan yellowfacing: Walter Oland and Sydney Toland were not Asian. Neither were Paul Muni and Luise Rainer who starred in The Good Earth, based on the Nobel Prized Pearl S. Buck novel; in spite of the unconvincing makeup, the 1937 film was a multi-Oscar winner, including Best Actress for Rainer and Best Picture.

“Gotta Dance and Sing” opens with Nancy Kwan in the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical Flower Drum Song, stops briefly at her birthday on the set of The World of Suzie Wong, and ends with her practicing high kicks with then-stunt advisor Bruce Lee. “New Generations” features an iconic shot of Lee as the unparalleled martial arts legend, includes APA theater history with the founding of East West Players and the early success of David Henry Hwang, the seminal founding of Visual Communications. The chapter moves quickly through to contemporary Chinese American media achievements from Wayne Wang’s The Joy Luck Club, to crossover stars Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat and directors John Woo and Wong Kar Wai, to (almost) household names Lucy Liu, B.D. Wong, and Justin Lin.

Ironically, although not surprisingly, the shortest chapter is the last – “Academy Awards” – but Ang Lee’s gratitude to the heavens filled with such joy is also a hope-filled final image surely promising more achievements to come.

TidbitChinese in Hollywood makes for a perfect companion title to Arthur Dong’s extensive documentary, Hollywood Chinese: The Chinese in American Feature Films.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2013


Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Chinese American

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

David and GoliathMalcolm and I started out great here. We usually do. He’s judgmental, opinionated, smart, questioning, and downright entertaining. Outliers remains my all-time Gladwell favorite, then Blinkthen Tipping Point. I thought he faltered a bit in his last title, What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures, but those contents weren’t new; that is, the book included 19 “favorites” among the “countless articles” he’s written for The New Yorker since 1996. This one seems all new (no notes on the copyright page that make reference to earlier publication of any of its parts). So I began with excited anticipation … and, well, things didn’t end so well this time.

Stuck in the ears (because Gladwell thus far always does his own perfect reading) and on the run, I nodded along to his explanations as to why Goliath was doomed, what with his acromegaly, diplopia, and lumbering inability to react to fleet-footed, clever, healthy David. I got that would be the general gist throughout: never underestimate the underdog because s/he will find ways to take that perfect shot.

So I played along with the odds-defying Silicon Valley tween girls’ daddy-basketball coach who himself had never played the game. I listened carefully as Gladwell revealed the surprising disadvantages of small class sizes (including a snarky diss at the exclusive boarding school Hotchkiss), where some of his reasoning started to falter. But when he insisted that a Brown student who ‘failed’ her first class ever (a B-!!) – a notoriously difficult rite-of-passage-chemistry requirement – would still be a scientist if she had gone to her backup state school instead of competing with the crème de la crème at an exclusive Ivy, my eyeballs indeed began to roll so far into my head, I reached my own tipping point, tripping over my own feet on the gnarly trails.

By the time I got halfway through, I was doing killer hill repeats … and trying to summarize what I was hearing with every agonizing four-minute repeating climb: unless you’re poor, abused, dyslexic, with at least one dead parent, you ain’t ever gonna amount to anything – and no one who survived one or all of those categories to become massively successful would ever wish those challenges on their own kids. Call it oxygen deprivation, but I quickly ran out of energy to argue and just kept going.

Divided into three parts that decrease in convincing efficacy, David and Goliath is not exactly the expected Gladwell triumph. But once you start, I imagine you’ll read to the very end, and retain certain clauses and concepts. His “Theory of Desirable Difficulty” explains how dyslexics and children missing at least one parent have compensated to become some of the most powerful people in the world – from Richard Branson (dyslexic) to 12 of the 44 U.S. presidents (including Obama) who lost a parent as children. He compares and contrasts the trauma induced by “near misses” with the courageous invulnerability inspired by “remote misses.” He explains how the “inverted U-curve” damned California’s “three strikes” laws to eventual failure. And if you’re googling around, you’ll see he found plenty of detractors over his revisionist (documented) presentation of one of the most famous civil rights images from Birmingham.

Bottom line? At his best, Gladwell makes you think; at his not-so-best, he makes you think harder. That’s it then: I’m doomed to be a Gladwell-groupie for life.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Nonfiction, Nonethnic-specific

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

I debated for a couple of weeks over posting about this book (no, I really don’t post every title I read) … I figured it’s already such a fabulous, internationally bestselling read that I was convinced everyone would have either read it, or read enough about it, that any more fodder out there about its merits would be just that – mere fodder. This morning, I decided I just had to post – not so much a review, but a most grateful testimonial.

So I’m scheduled to run Leadville 100 in about a month. Although I’ve been training for two years, I’m really really nervous because I’m coming back (sooooo slowly!) from last month’s bum ankle (click here for the book associated with that little folly). In preparation for next week’s training on the actual course with my fabulous coach (yes, he of Born to Run fame), I’m supposed to memorize all the aid stations and their distances along the high-altitude mountainous course.

As I headed out this morning at 3:00 a.m. (not a typo – I’m gonna be doing night running so better be ready!), I glanced at the station/mileage chart, channeled Joshua Foer, and built my own Deadville memory palace within a minute or two. So far, so good. Almost 12 hours later, and that palace remains solidly intact, complete with my May-baby daughter who quit piano at 13.5 and Roger Ebert who is gonna be 74 year-old, four years after I finish Deadville.

Confused? Just read this book … it’s a miraculous tool, especially for overloaded, doddering, aging brains (like mine!). In fact, a close friend who’s been noticing my rapid decline the last decade is the one who (thankfully) put the book – in CD form, read ever so smoothly by Mike Chamberlain – in my hands!

Learning to build memory palaces is merely a small portion of young Foer’s delightful read. While it’s got an element of “how-to,” it’s also quite a nail-biting memoir of a year in the life of a talented, determined young man and his training – with mental athletes from around the world – to fulfill what begins as a rather roundabout goal to become the next U.S. memory champion. [Major talent runs in the family, by the way – Foer's oldest brother is The New Republic's editor-at-large Franklin Foer, his other older brother is the wunderkind author Jonathan Safran Foer, his sister-in-law is the luminous National Book Award finalist Nicole Krauss!]

No spoilers here, but the journey is intensely mind-boggling as it is entertaining. If you must know sooner than later, you can check out Foer’s TED talk, but go back and read the rest of his book because you don’t want to miss chunking, what jokes and sex have to do with memory (bet you can instantly recall a dirty ditty!), “profligate fad chaser” Mark Twain, “‘person-action-object;’ or, simply PAO,” and the part I took most personally: “We value quantity of reading over quality of reading.” OUCH. Although a girl can never have too many memory palaces, right? I’ll just keep building …

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2011


Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Audio, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Nonethnic-specific

Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA by Julia Alvarez

Somewhere buried in these almost 300 pages (or just over nine hours if you’re listening to the husky voice of actress Daphne Rubin-Vega) is a really good book about the quinceañera – the 15th birthday celebration of a Latina which marks her maturity from little girl to womanhood. Alas, as it’s printed now, Once is just too much: merely trimming the repetition and the not-that-interesting ramblings of too many (famous) voices would definitely have made it a more streamlined read.

Using the framing device of a single “quince” – that of Monica Ramos, a Dominican American girl from Queens, New York –  Julia Alvarez weaves together her own bicultural coming-of-age in a Queens of decades past as a Dominican immigrant child in the 1960s. In between sharing the details of Monica’s special evening – the scheduling hiccups, the missing parents at her quickie church blessing, her not-quite Disney-fied “court,”‘ the finally radiant Monica – Alvarez traces the growing phenomenon of the American quinceañera and its hybrid history, its sociological implications, its wildly varying economics, and its rampant consumerism.

From beginning to end, Alvarez channels Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior, both as a literary phenomenon who guided her own path as a writer, and as one of three dolls she collected during her research which are representative of the trinity of “charms to remind me of aspects of coming-of-age as a girl.” That trio is composed of the princess which every girl wants to be on her special “quince” night, the fairy godmother who will enable the magical celebration, and the woman warrior who every girl will need to become in order to fight the “uphill battle against sexism, gender inequalities in wage earnings, threats to our equal rights, as well as against internal furies and naysayers that will try to hold us back.” Ironically, that these three dolls were bought in the U.S., are from a French manufacturer, but made in China, Alvarez notes, is yet another reminder that “[e]ven our dolls embody our global, ethnic, and racial mixtures!”

Alvarez is a versatile, highly regarded writer of multiple genres across all ages, best known for her award-winning novels How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies. She’s the sort of writer that can sell a book just because her name appears on the cover. While I was ultimately disappointed this time (I haven’t been before – how many prolific writers can you say that about?!!), I admit to sharing moments of insight, laughter, head-shaking shock, and even a few tears. That’s certainly enough to merit picking up more titles just for the promise of seeing her name.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2007


Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Audio, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Latino/a

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

Remember the title of Katherine Boo’s new book Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, because you will see it on upcoming nominee lists for the next round of Very Important Literary Prizes. That Boo won the Pulitzer in 2000, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship in 2002, became a staff writer for The New Yorker in 2003 (contributor since 2001) after 10 years with The Washington Post, and is just now publishing her debut title, will guarantee media coverage. That Beautiful is an unforgettable true story, meticulously researched with unblinking honesty, will make Boo’s next awards well-deserved.

From November 2007 to March 2011, Boo became a regular fixture in Annawadi, “the sumpy plug of slum” next to the constantly-modernizing international Mumbai airport, and home to 3,000 inhabitants “packed into, or on top of 355 huts.” Settled in 1991 by Tamil Nadu laborers from southern India hired to repair an airport runway, 21st-century Annawadi sits “where New India collided with old India and made new India late.” Encircling Annawadi are “five extravagant hotels,” luxurious evidence of India’s growing global presence: “’Everything around us is roses,’” describes an Annawadian, “’And we’re the sh*t in between.’” In this fetid microcosm, everyday dramas range from petty jealousies to explosive violence fueled by religion, caste, and gender.

At the center of Boo’s story is garbage trafficker Abdul, the oldest son and prime earner of the 11-member Husain family who comprise almost one-third of Annawadi’s three-dozen Muslim population. Thoughtful, quiet Abdul, who is 16 or 19 – “his parents were hopeless with dates” – his ill father, and his older sister stand accused of beating their crippled neighbor One Leg and setting her on fire. For three years, the family is victimized by a labyrinthine legal system controlled by open palms constantly demanding payment.

Life continues in Annawadi: Asha, a lowly-paid kindergarten teacher, works her growing political connections toward escaping the slum, determined her daughter Manju will become Annawadi’s first college graduate. Manju’s best friend Meena wants something more than to be a trapped, arranged teenage bride: “Everything on television announced a new and better India for women,” but “marrying into a village family was like time-traveling backward.”

The toilet cleaner Mr. Kamble is literally dying to raise enough money for a new heart valve so he can continue to shovel sewage and feed his family. The tiny scavenger-turned-thief Sunil (first introduced to Western readers in Boo’s February 2009 New Yorker article) worries that he will remain forever stunted, but at least he’s not a “baldie” like his taller, younger sister whose rat bites have become “boils [that] erupted with worms.” Meanwhile, thieving Kalu recreates the latest Bollywood films with his talented impersonations, entertaining slum kids who will never witness such marvels themselves.

Mumbai, for its marvelous rebirth, remains the largest city in an India that, in spite of being “an increasingly affluent and powerful nation … still housed one-third of the poverty, and one-quarter of the hunger, on the planet.” With the wealth of India’s top 100-richest equaling almost a quarter of the country’s GDP, today’s gap between top and bottom is virtually unfathomable.

Having built her lauded career on capturing the experiences of those living in some of America’s poorest communities, Boo moves “beyond [her] so-called expertise” to her husband’s country of origin, ready to “compensate for my limitations the same way I do in unfamiliar American territory: by time spent, attention paid, documentation secured, accounts cross-checked.” Once the Annawadians accepted the novelty of her foreign presence, “they went more or less about their business as I chronicled their lives” on the page, on film, on audiotape, in photos.

Throughout such careful documentation, the one element missing – very much to her credit – is Boo herself. Beautiful is by no means a personal memoir; it is not a socioeconomic study on poverty, nor a political treatise on widespread corruption. Beautiful is pure, astonishing reportage with as unbiased a lens as possible about specific individuals who populate a clearly demarcated section of ever-changing Mumbai.

The details of Boo’s process – with a glimpse into her experiences – are added in the “Author’s Note” at book’s end. Further details about Boo follow in “A Conversation with Katherine Boo” conducted by Random House power editor Kate Medina. Before ever “meeting” Kate Boo, readers thoroughly experience Annawadi with Abdul, One Leg, Manju, Sunil, and so many memorable others. Boo’s presence as the silent reporter remains so discreet throughout that she virtually disappears as you journey deeper and deeper, unable to turn away.

Review: Christian Science Monitor, January 26, 2012

Tidbit: How exciting! An excerpt from this review is quoted on Boo’s website. And can I just admit how satisfying it’s been to watch Boo and book appear on just about every Very Important Literary Prize finalist and winner list throughout this year??!! Congratulations on the latest: the 2012 National Book Award for Nonfiction. Whoo hoooo!!!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Indian, Nonethnic-specific

China in Ten Words by Yu Hua, translated by Allan H. Barr

Yu Hua is a grand master of subversion. Just as his title – China In Ten Words – promises, Yu “compress[es] the endless chatter of China today into ten simple words … to finally clear a path through the social complexities and staggering contrasts of contemporary China.” Through laconic reduction, Yu exposes a China far beyond current Western assumptions based on adoptable baby girls, fears about Chinese überstudents out-performing America’s own, and the looming US-to-China foreign debt.

Yu is well known for his internationally award-winning novels – including To Live (which became a lush Zhang Yimou film), Chronicle of a Blood Merchant, and Brothers – but China in Ten Words is his first nonfiction work in English translation. “In the thirty odd years since Mao’s death China has fashioned an astonishing economic miracle,” writes Yu from his insider’s vantage point, “but the price it has paid is even more astounding.”

Here, he combines history, sociopolitical analysis, economic observations, with his own personal experiences to illustrate for readers the contrast between the deprivation that defined the Cultural Revolution of his youth and the extravagance of contemporary China.

Yu begins almost nostalgically with “the first words [he] mastered”: “the people.” During Mao’s rule, “the people” projected power and gravitas, from Mao’s directive to “‘serve the people,’” to the People’s Republic of China, to the country’s most important newspaper, People’s Daily. Three decades later, Yu muses, “I can’t think of another expression in the modern Chinese language that is such an anomaly – ubiquitous yet somehow invisible.” In a new China “where money is king,” ‘the people’ have been “denuded of meaning by Chinese realities.”

Yet even more than ‘the people,’ “the word that has lost the most value the fastest during the last thirty years … would surely have to be ‘leader,’” Yu’s word #2. “Many years after the 1976 death of a genuine leader” – Chairman Mao – today’s Chinese are in the midst of cutthroat competition for mere survival: “the strong prey on the weak, people enrich themselves through brute force and deception, and the meek and humble suffer while the bold and unscrupulous flourish.”

Yu balances such vehemence with three chapters of personal reflection on “reading” (word #3), “writing” (word #4), and “Lu Xun” (word #5). In “reading,” Yu recalls the oppressive scarcity of books during the Cultural Revolution only to have books become worth less than wastepaper three decades later.

In “writing,” he shares some of his own literary history, from his early career as a small-town dentist to his aspirations toward “a loafer’s life in the cultural center” as a writer; he laughs off the critical praise he eventually receives for his “plain narrative language” as little more than the result of his untrained, limited vocabulary.

Yu confesses to his youthful disrespect toward China’s most influential 20th-century prose writer, Lu Xun, who was revered then reduced to a mere “catchphrase.” As a mature, acclaimed author himself, Yu is finally able to recognize and reclaim Lu Xun’s literary potency.

Continuing on through the second half of his 10 words, Yu’s sharp gaze proves unrelenting. He traces the evolving violence of “revolution” (word #6) over a span of 30 years, and examines the resulting “disparity” (word #7) between those who absconded with ill-gotten luxuries and those who remain trapped in “desolate ruins.” He captures the ruthless determination of “grassroots” (word #8) citizens, “who have nothing to lose, since they began with nothing at all,” who don’t allow concerns about morality or legality to obstruct their unwavering path toward financial gains.

When such ends seem to justify any means – methods employed can be described by words such as “copycat” (#9) and “bamboozle” (#10) – then “Harvard Communications” can use President Obama to sell their “Blockberry Whirlwind 9500,” and the penthouse allegedly leased by Bill Gates during the Beijing Olympics will “convert an obscure housing development into an apartment complex famous all over the country.”

Chapter by chapter, word by word, Yu drolly pulls off the proverbial white gloves, exposing one finger at a time until the guilty hands are stripped bare. Unblinking, Yu muses at the ‘you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up’ reality that is today’s China: “Here, where everything is tinged with the mysterious logic of absurdist fiction, Kafka or Borges might feel quite at home.” As a consummate author, Yu contemplates “writ[ing] such a story myself. Bamboozletown might be its title.”

Review: Christian Science Monitor, December 8, 2011

Readers: Adult

Published: 2011 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, .Translation, Chinese

I Am Different! Can You Find Me? by Manjula Padmanabhan

Leave it to the Global Fund for Children (and the always innovative small press Charlesbridge) to offer a colorful new book that uses a clever game of hide-and-seek to celebrate our differences, while sharing our universal sameness. And, of course, novelist/playwright/cartoonist Manjula Padmanabhan also deserves equal praise for her entertaining, enlightening creation.

Although 80% of the U.S population speaks only English (I confess I cringed at that statistic, given how so much of the rest of the world is multi-lingual), many many many languages were brought to American shores from all over the world. We are, after all, a continent of immigrants, with roots that extend all over the world over hundreds and hundreds of years, as well as origins that begin right here for indigenous Americans.

Here you’ll learn how to say, “Can you find me?” in 16 different languages – from Hebrew to Cree to Hawaiian to Arabic to Chinese to Spanish to Nahuatl to even American Sign Language (!) – along with 16 puzzles in which you’ll need to identify the one crow, iguana, flower, ladder, key, etc. etc. that is not like the others.

With each puzzle, you also get a little language lesson, including the many words from various other languages that have become a part of everyday English. Take a guess where these words might have originated: hallelujah, ukulele, giraffe, candy, tote, silk, shampoo, and so many more. You’ll just have to get the book if you’re not sure of the answers!

In case you needed any more convincing, click here to hear some of the Global Fund staff read to you from this delightful title. Don’t you want to join in?

Readers: Children

Published: 2011

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Nonfiction, Indian American, South Asian American

Scenes from an Impending Marriage: a prenuptial memoir by Adrian Tomine

Shockingly enough, Valentine’s Day wasn’t actually created by Hallmark! In fact, the heartfelt holiday has two versions as to its origins. The Christians say the date commemorates three martyrs all named ‘Valentine’; St. Valentine’s Day was established at the end of the 5th century, only to be wiped off the Catholic calendar in 1969 – must have gotten too commercial for the Vatican, ahem! The other version has even longer history and is associated with fertility celebrations. The same Pope Gelasius I who put the Valentine martyrs on the official Catholic calendar apparently did so to replace those messy archaic festivals. For awhile there, holy death trumped baby-making …

Thanks to Geoffrey Chaucer (“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote”-dude of Canterbury Tales) who’s given credit for being the first to meld the deadly sacred day with deep romantic love back in 1382, we’ve now had this annual celebration of lovers for centuries. So all that to explain why I can’t let the day of hearts go by without a killer –but oh so mushy – posting.

Adrian and Sarah are engaged. “Weird,” they decide. As soon as Sarah starts listing the necessary preparations for the upcoming nuptials – from the best date to venues to who gets to be there – Adrian’s first reaction is to interrupt her monologue with “Any chance you’d want to elope?”

No such luck. The planning ensues: arguing over the guest list, complete with the scratched-out-delisted (ouch!); choosing between a rooftop, a state park, and a raw space; trying to appease both sets of parents with “a bunch of guys in diapers banging on drums and a bunch of guys in skirts blowing into bagpipes all at the same time!”; suggesting a ‘buffer zone’ between the “quiet, sober, West Coast Asians and the loud, drunken, East Coast Irish”; deciding between a real DJ and an iPod shuffle, “making a list of expensive stuff you expect people to buy for you,” and the most challenging of all … creating the “if you really, really, really loved me, you’d do this”-perfect wedding favor.

This little ditty is indisputable proof that manga-master Adrian Tomine really, really, really loved his Sarah who is now his wife. It’s a charming, silly, tongue-in-cheek look at the more-often-than-not-argument-inducing rituals of modern weddings; it’s also a definitive reminder of all the crazy things we do for love.

Happy Hearts Day indeed!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2011


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Japanese American

If the World Were a Village: A Book about the World’s People by David J. Smith, illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong

‘Global village’ is one of those overused phrases we hear so often we don’t actively think about the meaning anymore … but what if you had actual faces, descriptions, numbers, and other important details to better understand who actually lives in that global village?

Thanks to award-winning educational consultant David J. Smith and the vivid illustrations created by his three-book collaborator Shelagh Armstrong, that village-in-a-digestible-snapshot was first published in 2002. Now updated with data gathered through 2010, this second edition offers an even more incisive worldly experience. Combined with the team’s other two titles – If America Were a Village and This Child, Every Child – the trilogy provides a highly accessible, inclusive overview of today’s world for readers of just about any age. Every library – personal or public – should have all three.

As of 2010, the world is home to 6.9 billion people. “Number this big are hard to understand,” so Smith creates an imaginary village of just 100 inhabitants, with each person representing 69 million out in the real world. So who lives here? Unlike here at home in the United States, in the global village, I’m actually not a minority: of the 100, 61 are from Asia, 14 from Africa. 11 from Europe, 8 from South and Central America and the Caribbean, 5 are from the U.S. and Canada, and just one from Oceania which encompasses Australia, New Zealand and the islands of the south, west, and central Pacific. Imagine that!

Of the almost-6,000 languages spoken throughout the world, 21 of our villagers speak a Chinese dialect while 9 speak English. More than half of the population are under 30 years of age. A third of the population is Christian, 21 are Muslim, 15 are non-religious, and only one is Jewish.

Even though the village has enough food for everyone, it’s not divided equally which means 30 people are hungry some or all of the time, and 17 more are severely undernourished and always hungry. Water is also a problem with 13 people who don’t have access to safe water, 38 who don’t have access to adequate sanitation, and 32 who are forced to breathe unhealthy air.

Among the 36 villagers of school age (5-24), 6 children aren’t getting an education because they are forced to work (some even as child soldiers!). Of the 63 employable adults, 6 can’t find jobs while 5 are in school. The richest 10 people hold 85% of the world’s wealth, while the poorest 10 live on less than $2 a day!

Today’s newborns can expect to live to be 68 – a huge increase from age 38 in 1850 and 49 in 1900. Living longer means our population continues to grow: in 1000 BCE, only one person lived in our global village, 8 people in 1500, 32 in 1900, and 100 in our 2010 model. By 2150, our village could number 250 people!

“This book is about ‘world-mindedness,’ which is an attitude, an approach to life,” writes Smith. “It is the sense that our planet is actually a village, and we share this small, precious village with our neighbors. Knowing who our neighbors are, where they live, and how they live, will help us live in peace.” We humans seem to need all the help we can get … let Smith’s insights get us a few steps closer to lasting peace …

Tidbit: To learn more about David Smith and his books, including a short video of David speaking specifically about this title in Convent Garden, London, click here.

Readers: All

Published: 2002, 2011 (second edition)

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Filed under ...Absolute Favorites, ..Adult Readers, ..Children/Picture Books, ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Nonfiction

China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power by Rob Gifford

At the end of a six-year stint in Beijing as the China correspondent for NPR, Rob Gifford sent his wife and children ahead to London to start their new lives. Gifford, who first arrived in China as a language student in his early 20s, embarks on a two-month, 3,000-mile journey across China’s Route 312 – not unlike U.S. Route 66 – which joins Shanghai to the western Chinese border with Kazakhstan. “For twenty years, my life has been entwined with China, and my experiences here have shaped the person I have become,” he writes. “And this road trip is a way of saying goodbye.”

Gifford’s two decades of on-the-ground experience, and even more importantly his fluency in Mandarin, allow him privileged access. To call his subjects diverse is beyond understatement; they are fascinating, unique, shocking, inspiring, exasperating, eloquent, opinionated … and many of them, patriotic and proud.

China’s international rise, as presented by the western media, has predominantly been centered on the meteoric metamorphosis in its major cities, especially Beijing and Shanghai. More recently, the “yellow threat” is back in the news again and often – from the superiority of Chinese students (at least in test scores) to the looming threat of China’s growing economic power as western debt rises. In spite of the lightning changes, reading Gifford’s already four-year-old book actually couldn’t be more timely. Beyond the numbers and statistics, Gifford introduces you to the actual people.

Traveling on sleek trains, bone-rattling busses, hitchhiked trucks, lovers’ taxis, friends’ jeeps, Gifford’s journey is, of course, most memorable because of the people he meets along the way: a cave-dwelling hermit with a cell phone who lives up a sacred mountain; a city doctor who travels to small towns enforcing the one-child policy, who speaks so matter-of-factly about the late-term (even live birth!) abortions she must sometimes perform; a small Christian congregation whose members insist that he preach an impromptu sermon when their traveling pastor does not arrive; a roomful of dying men infected with AIDs after a monstrously disastrous government-sponsored blood-collecting scheme that wiped out whole villages too remote to make international headlines; and perhaps the most chilling of all, a Chinese language teacher who explains that to hold on to his Tibetan heritage is to remain enslaved in poverty although he draws the line at taking a Chinese wife.

With his sharp, questioning journalism background, Gifford effectively weaves in Chinese history, politics, economics, and culture that give his masterful stories a deeper context and insight beyond the details of individual daily lives. From Genghis Khan’s invasion to unparalleled empires, to the shameful destruction resulting from western colonialism, to the genocidal Japanese invasion, to the ruthless control of Mao’s regime, to today’s Communist/capitalist conundrum, Gifford presents a China of unlimited contradictions.

Join Gifford on his mesmerizing cross-country trek– whether on the page or take it along on your iPod (the latter highly recommended, crisply read by Simon Vance). This is one journey you won’t hear – or even think! – ‘are we there yet?’ even once!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2007


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, British, Chinese