Friday, January 29, 1999

Iron And Silk

by Mark Salzman

The author, a graduate of Yale in Chinese language and literature, went to China for two years to teach English and study martial arts.  This account is presented as a series of episodes, each with its own life lesson.  The book gives a clear picture of the variety of experiences he had, from the unsympathetic, even vicious, foreign-hating bureaucracy, to the incredibly open hospitality of those who had the least time to give.

The culture gap (and gape) is made readily apparent, in the student who thinks Americans must be cruel just to think up something like the Shirley Jackson story “The Lottery;” in the family of fishermen who wash and brush their teeth in the same river they use as a toilet; in the intellectual who calls The World According To Garp the most “unsuitable” book he’d ever imagined, then asks to keep it; in the man whose greatest wish is to eat and sleep well, saying Salzman’s dreams, to be liked and to excel, are easily attainable, but to eat and sleep well are beyond one’s control...  A beautiful, clever, unassuming book. 

five stars

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