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Home is a Roof Over a Pig: An American Family's Journey in China

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3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  251 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
When all-American Aminta Arrington moves from suburban Georgia to a small town in China, she doesn't go alone. Her army husband and three young children, including an adopted Chinese daughter, uproot themselves too. Aminta hopes to understand the country with its long civilization, ancient philosophy, and complex language. She is also determined that her daughter Grace, ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published July 5th 2012 by The Overlook Press (first published July 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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guiltlessreader
Apr 25, 2015 guiltlessreader rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Luanne
Oct 17, 2012 Luanne rated it it was amazing
One of the best books on comparing/contrasting Chinese vs Western cultures. The icing on the cake, the author is a very talented writer whose perspective is that of a mother/wife who moves to China with her husband and 3 small children, one of whom was born in China and adopted into the family.
Susan Snider
Sep 11, 2012 Susan Snider rated it really liked it
Interesting view on language acquisition and cultural differences. Made me think.
Cate
Aug 15, 2012 Cate rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
When I was in middle school my father called from half-way across the country where he commuted for work to tell me, my mother, and younger sister that we had the opportunity to move to the other side of the world. We all enthusiastically agreed to this adventure and learned that we had ten days in which to pack up our entire lives and arrive in New Zealand. Since my experience living there, I have loved traveling and feel an immediate bond with other Americans who have had the same experience ...more
Shirley
Sep 30, 2012 Shirley rated it it was amazing
Home is a Roof Over a Pig is a fantastic read for the armchair cultural anthropologist. Aminta Arrington's memoir is a fantastic first-hand account of the life, customs, and calligraphy of China. Though she shares her family's present-day experiences, she also shares historical lessons that have led to the lives and thought processes of today's Chinese. The book is very well-written by an author who is well-educated and knowledgeable about her subject.

I was fascinated by the Chinese education s
...more
Liralen
Jan 17, 2015 Liralen rated it really liked it
When Arrington's husband decided it was time to leave the army, he made her an offer: Until then, his career had taken precedence; they'd lived in Germany and Japan and the U.S., and she'd never had much of a chance to build her own career. Now, though, with the army out of the picture, it was her turn to decide.

Arrington wanted to move to China. She'd spent little time there, but one of their daughters was adopted from China, and she wanted Grace—and her siblings—to have a better understanding
...more
Kristi
Feb 03, 2013 Kristi rated it really liked it
The Arrington family has three small children, one of whom is a Chinese adopted girl named Grace. Once the author's husband retires from military service, he tells his wife, "follow your dream" and her dream is to live and teach in China, based on previous military stations in Japan and a fascination with Asian culture, as well as a desire to give Grace a sense of her roots. While it is incredibly difficult to place families into teaching positions, they manage to both receive jobs at a small ...more
Rachel
Mar 13, 2013 Rachel rated it it was amazing
I picked up this up from the travel/foreign history section on a whim, after loving my last choice from there ("In My Father's Country" by Saima Wahab). The book turned out to be a personal family memoir, with snippets of Chinese language, culture and history, as well as the family adventures traveling through China and living there for 7 years (as of 2012 when the book was published). The title comes from the actual Chinese character for Home, which literally translates as "a roof over a pig". ...more
Sarah
Feb 15, 2016 Sarah rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I appreciated the author's insight into both the contradictory nature of China, and of the arrogance that Americans are perceived to have. Being willing to accept these made it so much more enjoyable to read.

China is an amazing country, filled with magnificent history and culture, yet it also has some aspects that we might consider pretty gross. On top of this, within the country itself is such a wide divergence between its people, cultures, environment and attitudes
...more
Teresa
Feb 11, 2013 Teresa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, travel
I really enjoyed this thoughtful, interesting memoir of an American family's life in China following the adoption of one of their daughters, Grace. I have a personal interest in China - my brother lived & taught there, I have a native Chinese family member, and two of my nieces will be traveling to China this year - one to Beijing & one to Shanghai. The author is immersed in the education system while living in Tai'n both as an instructor and also as a parent of 3 children attending the ...more
Mommymac10
Oct 16, 2012 Mommymac10 rated it it was amazing
Just the sort of travel book I most enjoy: what was it like?? Arrington and her husband and 3 small children lived in a medium-size city in Shandong while Mr. Arrington taught English in college and his wife taught it in high school. At the same time, their children were going to a Chinese pre-school. Immersion all around, so readers get a good look at the culture. She also studied the ideographs as a lesson in Chinese history -- hence the title, which describes the character for "home". We ...more
Anna Fierce
Aug 04, 2012 Anna Fierce rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone!
Check out my blog for more extensive reviews and more!

PROS: I really enjoyed reading this book. Ms. Arrington's writing is funny at times, poignant at others and always interesting. She is transparent enough to admit when she has shortcomings, and those shortcomings make her very relatable and human. Her examinations of the pictographs that make up the Chinese language were very interesting. I enjoyed her look at the pros and cons of the Chinese education system.

CONS: The only complaint I had w
...more
Laura
Nov 02, 2012 Laura rated it it was amazing
I have read a lot of books about China and this was one of the best! As the mother ot two daughters adopted from China, I appreciated that lens. Having just returned from a long sightseeing trip to China with my family, I appreciated all the explanations of daily Chinese life that had mystified me. As a reader with interest in many cultures, I appreciated the explanation of Chinese language and characters that was so accessible and opened whole new dimensions of Chinese life and culture to me. ...more
Suzanne
Sep 09, 2012 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
I've read countless books about China, and a good amount about this topic---an American family moving to China. This is the first time I felt the family truly wanted to get to know China, to become part of it. They lived in a regular apartment in a regular small city, sent their three young kids (including a daughter adopted from China) to a regular Chinese kindergarten, and indeed, they still live in China after quite a few years. No rich ex-pat life here! If you would like to better understand ...more
Meredith
May 21, 2013 Meredith rated it it was amazing
A friend and colleague on GoodReads recommended I read this during my upcoming educational trip to China. It was a perfect suggestion! I had a non-work related book to read and enjoy and the book helped me understand certain things common to Chinese society in a broader context. The book takes place in about 2007-2009 and so was contemporary enough to reflect my trip to Nanjing in May 2013.
Well written and easy to read. I loved the author's use of weaving chinese characters into her chapter titl
...more
D
Aug 25, 2012 D rated it it was amazing
Since visiting China in '07, I've read steadily about this most interesting of countries, especially about modern China. This book is one of the best for revealing the contradictions and curiosities that spark the American visitor. (The author spent two years there as an English teacher. Having an adopted Chinese daughter of preschool age, she is also wanting to give the child a footing in her birth culture.)
The title refers to the ideographic character for the English word "home".
Emily Crowe
Jan 17, 2013 Emily Crowe rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013, nonfiction
Interesting book so far. I picked it up last night to help me fall asleep after watching multiple episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it's good, though I only got up to the point where I learned that the Chinese character for "home" is derived from two characters meaning "roof" and "pig", which in turn came about from those ancient Chinese people who were lucky enough to raise pigs and not be itinerant and therefore had a roof over their pigs and therefore had a home.
Patricia
Jan 11, 2013 Patricia rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved it. There are so many levels to this masterpiece. A lot fuller than I expected.
Noah W
Jan 13, 2013 Noah W rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
The book explores Chinese culture over 33 chapters. Each chapter takes a Chinese written character and extracts the meaning behind the word from both an etymological perspective and a “living in real China” point of reference. The author engages in discussing many contemporary and traditional Chinese issues and articulates the responses of her students.

I have always been fascinated by Chinese characters because several characters reflect Bible stories or themes. For example, since my name is No
...more
Aalabamadill
Jul 25, 2012 Aalabamadill rated it liked it
Shelves: novels-1-reading
I am not sorry that I read this book. However I can only recommend it with some hedging. The detail and quality of the writing was fine. The most interesting parts were her discussions about the characters as she learns how to write Chinese. Unfortunately, the characters/actual people she writes about are not so honestly described. I am sorry Mrs. Arrington chose to write this while still living in China. Because apparently that affected her ability to be open and honest about the journey her ...more
Kelli
Sep 10, 2012 Kelli rated it really liked it
Aminta Arrington's memoir about moving to China and teaching English at a medical university is interesting and full of information on Chinese culture. After her husband retires from the military, the family moves with their three young children to China, where they hope to expose their middle daughter, adopted from China several years earlier, to her birth country's culture and history without the filter of translation. Throughout the book, Arrington describes their life in a small city, their ...more
Erin
Sep 30, 2013 Erin rated it really liked it
Even though it was not at all what I expected, I really enjoyed this book. I picked it up expecting a story primarily of adoption and secondarily of raising small children in a foreign country. These themes were right up my alley.

While Arrington's family does naturally feature in the book, the main star is China. I loved the depiction of a country I know very little about, and where I know even less about what the day-to-day life is. Arrington, with interesting, never-lecturing narrative, takes
...more
Catherine
Arrington moves to China with her husband, a former military man, and their three young children, one of whom was adopted from China. Aminta and her husband Chris are English teachers in their new rural Chinese home and their children attend the local Chinese school. The couple and their three children all go through different phases of acclimating to their new home and lives.

Arrington shares a lot of interesting observations comparing the different styles of teaching between what we’re used to
...more
Em
May 24, 2013 Em rated it it was ok
Well, I'm saying I'm done because I have to turn it back into the library tomorrow and I just never finished it. I really wanted to like this book. I love the idea of an American family immersing their adopted Chinese daughter in authentic Chinese culture, but the book was surprisingly boring. Arrington organizes the narrative around discussion of Chinese characters. Because I love language, I initially thought this was appealing. However, as I got further into the book I realized that half the ...more
Ruth
Oct 13, 2012 Ruth rated it it was ok
I'm not sure why I couldn't get into this book the way I'd anticipated. After all, the prose is clean, the narrative moves forward well enough, and the author's use of Chinese characters to link her musings to the overall narrative is well-done.

I suppose, having read so many books written by Westerners trying to understand China, my desires and expectations for books such as these is too high. After finishing the book and concluding that Arrington lived/worked (as I did) for a length of time in
...more
Judy
Feb 24, 2013 Judy rated it really liked it
This is a great description of the Chinese culture by someone who has lived there for several years. Aminta Arrington and her family moved to Tai'an, a small city in the Shandong province of China, when her husband retired from the army and told her it was her time to choose where they would live. Because they had adopted a daughter from China she wanted to learn more about the Chinese culture and let her kids know about it as well, so she and her husband took jobs teaching English at a small ...more
Gette
Feb 29, 2016 Gette rated it liked it
Shelves: building-seagram
An informative yet personal account of a family's decision to adopt a child from China and subsequent decision to move to China as a family. Both parents teach ESL and their three preschool children attend the local grade school. The author is earnest and yet despite all the language and cultural distinctions she and the family come to understand the story is ultimately that of an American abroad and it comes to seem an all too pat adventure in all things Asian. There isn't a lot of depth ...more
Polly
Aug 25, 2013 Polly rated it liked it
An interesting story about an American couple who adopt a Chinese girl and then decide to move to China to immerse her/themselves into that culture. They teach English at a college in a small city in China and send their three young children to a Chinese school. Why someone would send their children to a regimented school, expose them to cold and pollution and to unfamiliar food, harsh living conditions and such a different environment, is beyond me. To me, it feels like the author is overly ...more
Agatha
Aug 04, 2014 Agatha rated it really liked it
I liked this book a lot and I liked the narrator/main character. I felt like she could be a friend or an acquaintance or someone whom I could have met through work, other job contacts, other grad school friends, etc. .

At any rate, this was an extremely interesting (to me) book about modern life in China. It really explains so many things I (and maybe other Westerners, Americans, etc.) wondered about Chinese people: why do they view things the way they do, what’s the big deal over Taiwan, the di
...more
Linda
Jan 09, 2014 Linda rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-nonfiction
My review is here.

p. 175 "Your country is only two hundred years old. You don't have much history and your culture is young. You are insecure in these areas, so of course you think about them. In China, we know we have an old culture. We know we have five thousand years of civilization. We are secure in this, so we don't think about it or long for it."

p. 299 On the US: "We are the only country founded upon on idea."
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Aminta Arrington has an M.A. in international relations from Johns Hopkins University School of advanced International Studies and studied at Waseda University in Tokyo. She has written about China for The Seattle Times, and she edited the anthology Saving Grandmother's Face: and Other Tales from Christian Teachers in China. Arrington continues to live and work in China with her family.

More about Aminta Arrington...

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“Relationships
An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.”
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“I picked up the phone, 'Hello?'
'Merry Christmas!' said Mom and Dad.
...
'I love you too' I replied. I hung up the phone. My students were gaping at me. Two girls in the back row brushed away tears and hugged each other. Parents and children rarely said those three words in China. They knew their parents loved them, but they knew from their actions, not because they had ever been told. The students had studied and heard about the importance of family at Christmas, but with that telephone call they saw it for themselves.”
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