Min read that paperback copy of 'The Good Earth' on the airplane from Chicago to Los Angeles. When she finished, she says, emotion overcame her.
‘I couldn't help myself, and I broke down and sobbed because I have never seen anyone, including our Chinese authors, who wrote our peasants the way Pearl Buck did, with such love, affection and humanity. And it was at that very moment 'Pearl of China' was conceived.’ – from “A Chinese Fan of Pearl S. Buck Returns the Favor,” by Anchee Min, NPR Website
Back in 2001, just as China's auto boom was beginning, New Yorker writer Peter Hessler decided to join the nearly one thousand people who registered to drive each day in Beijing alone. He spent the next seven years road tripping around China to see just how the car was transforming the country. – from “Observations of China, From Behind the Wheel,” NPR Website
A native of Beijing, author Diane Wei Liang now lives in London, where she writes her mystery novels in English. But though she simplifies some of the Chinese names and details in her books for the benefit of her foreign audience, Liang's fiction is still steeped in the sights and sounds of her homeland. – from “Crime and Consequences in Beijing’s Back Alleys,” by Anthony Kuhn, NPR Website
Lost in Translation, by Nicole Mones (New York: Delta, 1999; first published in 1998)
First published in 1998, Nicole Mones first novel, Lost in Translation, transports readers into “the vast, uncharted terrain of northwest China,” where Dr. Adam Spencer believes he’ll find the missing remains of Peking Man, first discovered in the 1920s, only to vanish in 1941. Inspired by the work and writings of real-life Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, present at the discovery of Peking Man, Spencer leads an expedition that includes Alice Mannegan, an American translator living in China, hoping to escape her past; and two Chinese researchers, one attracted to Alice, but still haunted by his wife’s disappearance during the “Chaos” many years before. Nicole Mones is becoming one of my favorite contemporary novelists, with story, history, and sense of place interweaving into novels both compelling and enlightening.
First they had to cross the Helan Shan. Through most of its length, running north-south parallel to the local flow of the Yellow River, it was a towering escarpment – completely impassable. Its limestone walls rose from four thousand to thirteen thousand feet in less than a mile. So they had to drive around to the south end, where the range crumbled down to brown peaks of dirt and rock and was cut by passes. They rattled up the burning asphalt road. The jeep engine groaned down a gear. Alice laid her head on the seat and watched the gray specter of the Helan Shan’s crest, the wall of rock Teilhard had loved, a million years in the making. – from Lost in Translation, by Nicole Mones
A Cup of Light: a Novel, by Nicole Mones (New York: Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2003; first published in 2002)
Following Chinese porcelain specialist Lia Frank as she appraises a Beijing collection of more than 800 pieces, readers are pulled into the history and underworld of porcelain. A sweet love story and strong sense of place, whether in modern Beijing or in Jingdezhen, China’s “Porcelain Capital,” add to the novel’s drama and pleasure.
He walked along the river, with mattresses and clothing spread out to dry all along its banks. People squatted among their possessions, scrubbing off mud and drying their pots and their baskets and their books one by one.
After a while he raised his hand for a clattery little aluminum-can taxi and rode northwest, away from the center of town, toward Yu’s place. The awnings and poor storefronts fell away. Dark leaves crowded along the base of the old stone and concrete walls, lowering and settling, closing around little houses and courtyards that spread out and relaxed into larger, more rambling spaces as the puttering taxi left the downtown behind.
Many of these dwellings were also studios, or small family factories. Ninety-five percent of the people who made pots here in Jingdezhen worked at home. Yes, some of the big factories were still running, turning out dishware, pouring black smoke up to heaven. They supplied the world with what was everywhere called ‘china.’ But the factories employed only a fraction of Jingdezhen’s porcelain people, and the less skilled ones at that. The best artists worked alone. – from A Cup of Light: a Novel, by Nicole Mones
Red Azalea, by Anchee Min (New York: Anchor Books, 2006; first published in 1994)
Red Azalea is Anchee Min’s frightening, fascinating, and celebrated memoir of growing up during “the last years of Mao’s China.” Readers follow Min through her childhood; working on Red Fire Farm during her teenage years; selection and training as an actress; eventual fall from favor; and emigration to the United States.
I was raised on the teachings of Mao and on the operas of Madam Mao, Comrade Jiang Ching. I became a leader of the Little Red Guards in elementary school. This was during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution when red was my color. My parents lived like--as the neighbors described them--a pair of chopsticks: always in harmony My father was an instructor of industrial technique drawing at Shanghai Textile Institute, although his true love was astronomy. My mother was a teacher at a Shanghai middle school. She taught whatever the Party asked, one semester in Chinese and the next in Russian. My parents both believed in Mao and the Communist Party, just like everybody else in the neighborhood. They had four children, each one a year apart. I was born in 1957. We lived in the city, on South Luxuriant Road in a small two-story townhouse occupied by two families. The house was left by my grandfather, who had died of tuberculosis right before I was born. – from Red Azalea, by Anchee Min
The Last Chinese Chef, by Nicole Mones (New York, NY: A Mariner Book, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007)
When food writer Maggie McElroy travels to China to settle a claim on her late husband’s estate, she decides to “stay sane” by accepting an assignment from her editor -- profile one of China’s gifted chefs as he plans the “banquet of a lifetime” for “China’s Olympic culinary competition.” McElroy’s assignment takes readers into the fascinating, sensual, and “hidden world of elite cuisine in modern China,” with culinary roots reaching deep into Chinese history and traditions.
Food was the code of etiquette and the definer of hierarchy too. Sam had made her see that a meal was food but also a presentation of symbols, suggestions, and references, connecting people not only to one another but to their culture, art, and history. -- from The Last Chinese Chef, by Nicole Mones
“My mother and I had arrived in her birthplace, our ancestral home. And as the train rolled past centuries-old Ming dynasty watchtowers, melting forlornly into the hills, I recalled the words of Zhang Jigang, the Shanxinese choreographer whom I had met in Beijing. ‘You’ll see how important Shanxi is to Chinese civilization,’ Mr. Zhang, a director of the Olympic opening ceremony, told me. ‘In my opinion, you cannot know China without knowing Shanxi.’” – from “Bridging Generations on China’s High Plateau,” by Aric Chen, The New York Times
Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: a Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, by Fuchsia Dunlop (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008)
In 1994, British food writer Fuchsia Dunlop went to China to study for a year at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine, with the underlying motive of eating “whatever the Chinese might put in front of me.” Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper describes her journey, of people and place, and best of all, cuisine, from “spicy aubergines” to “duck tongues.”
A few months later, a colleague at the BBC suggested I apply for a British Council scholarship to study in China. She helped me devise a worthy plan to investigate Chinese policy on ethnic minorities, a subject that had interested me for some time. Filling in the scholarship form, I came up with various academically convincing reasons for basing my research in Chengdu. I wanted to avoid the expatriate centres of Beijing and Shanghai, so that I had a chance to immerse myself in Chinese life and the Chinese language – never mind that Sichuan dialect is a notoriously distorted version of Mandarin. Then there was Sichuan’s location on the fringes of Han Chinese China, near the borderlands inhabited by Tibetans, Yi, Qiang, and countless other minorities. It all sounded quite plausible. But as I filled in the boxes on the form and composed my personal declaration, I must confess that I was thinking also about sweet and spicy aubergines, of a fish lazing in chili-bean sauce, of frilly pig’s kidneys and Sichuan pepper. Fortunately, the British Council and the Chinese government agreed that Chengdu was a suitable place for me to study, and they gave me my grant, a golden ticket to explore China for a year, with no strings attached. – from Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, by Fuchsia Dunlop