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Iron and Silk

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  2,869 Ratings  ·  216 Reviews
Salzman captures post-cultural revolution China through his adventures as a young American English teacher in China and his shifu-tudi (master-student) relationship with China's foremost martial arts teacher.
Paperback, 224 pages
Published October 12th 1987 by Vintage (first published 1986)
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mark monday
Oct 21, 2010 mark monday rated it it was ok
Shelves: he-said-she-said
Salzman is a sweet guy, there's no doubt about it. his tales of his time in china are direct, cleanly written, and rooted in a clear love of the world around him and the people in it. he manages to effortlessly sidestep any potential landmines in terms of race, culture, or class simply by being himself - a warm, unpretentious and rather unsophisticated sweetheart. and Iron & Silk is a great mouthwash after reading the sour musings of the irritable and irritating Paul Theroux. but despite all ...more
Book Concierge
From the back cover: The much-acclaimed adventures of a young martial arts master in China “take the form of a series of lightly sketched-in episodes; almost without exception, they produce the gulp of feeling you might get from an unusually fine short story, and they reverberate long after you have put them down.” (The New York Times)

My thoughts:
Salzman had been interested in China since the age of thirteen, when he’d first seen the television movie Kung Fu. He had studied kung fu, Chinese art
Jul 05, 2007 David rated it really liked it
Before there was Peter Hessler, there was Mark Salzman. This first book of his, Iron and Silk, a memoir of time spent in China, was totally charming. Excellent writing, a keen eye, and a sly, self-deprecating sense of humor marked Salzman as a writer to watch.

His subsequent writing career has been unorthodox, but interesting. I've not read all of his work, but the two subsequent books of his that I did read - Lying Awake and The Soloist – confirmed him as someone worth keeping up with. “True No
Feb 23, 2012 Mark rated it it was amazing
Salzman became infatuated with Chinese culture, after watching the television series “Kung Fu”, at age thirteen. He received college degrees from Yale, in both Chinese language and Chinese literature.
In the early 80s, he lands a job, in Changsha, China, teaching English to students and teachers at Hunan Medical College. This wonderful memoir, covers his time there. He studies martial arts & calligraphy, with various instructors, which is all fascinating but in these beautiful episodic tales,
Jun 09, 2011 Rob rated it it was amazing
I actually just re-read this. Read it like 10 years ago (before becoming involved in martial arts or chinese culture, or travelling to china (or anywhere)) but I enjoyed it then. This time, having become sort of ensconsed in those things, I enjoyed very very much.

Definitely gets inside the duel-natured chinese character in a light hearted and really cool/informative way (a series of short non-fiction stories). Recommended for anyone interested in how chinese culture is different from american cu
Mircalla64 (free Liu Xiaobo)
Jun 13, 2015 Mircalla64 (free Liu Xiaobo) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cina
Cina for dummies

avventura in Cina di un americano negli anni ottanta, dopo la morte del Grande Timoniere ma prima della politica di Aperture e Riforme del Compagno Deng...un tizio biondo con gli occhi chiari, che nelle campagne viene visto come un oggetto esotico e nelle città come una pericolosa spia...insegna inglese all'Università dello Hunnan, nella facoltà di medicina, gli allievi sono vecchi medici, giovani future stelle del Partito e poveri vecchi riciclati/recuperati dopo gli eccessi del
Debbie Zapata
Sep 13, 2014 Debbie Zapata rated it it was amazing
Shelves: saturday
This is the second book by Mark Salzman that I have read. The first was Lying Awake and that lovely book inspired me to search out more of Salzman's works. Iron & Silk was the first book he wrote, telling of the two years he spent in China teaching English in the early 80's.

Salzman has a wonderful way of describing the people he meets. They become as real to the reader as they were to the author. He is honest about his reactions to the country, and he shares his adventures
as a martial arts s
Oct 13, 2010 K rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, travel, asianness
A wonderfully entertaining travel memoir, consisting of anecdotes from author's 1982 stint teaching English in China. I liked it a lot. Favorite parts, when students were describing their happiest moments, martial arts training.

It did strike me how so much of the stories are distancing, framed so that the Chinese are quaint little characters, summed up with some incident or phrase that illuminates yet conceals. The majority of the Chinese individuals that Salzman describes come across as wonder
Nov 09, 2009 Amanda rated it really liked it
I picked this book up because I saw Mark Salzman in the documentary, "Protagonist". I was fascinated with what he had to say about his life and about martial arts, and drawn in by his apparent excitement and zest for life.

I enjoyed the writing style, which was straightforward and easy to follow - it didn't get in the way of the story. I also really enjoyed the gentle humor found in the clash of the East/West cultures. There was a lot of talk about various styles of martial arts, which I found f
Jul 24, 2009 Ken rated it it was amazing
This memoir of the two years Salzman spent teaching English in China quietly wins you over. It's a series of anecdotes introducing you to a wide range of Chinese people, from the powerful to the poor, the obstinate to the kind, the proud to the humble. Many of the tales show Salzman's characteristic ear for humor. What I liked best? I felt like I understood the culture of the Chinese people better after reading it. They are incredibly different from Americans and yet... the ties that bind. Human ...more
Aug 24, 2011 GSL rated it it was ok
Shelves: i-own, east-asia
Save yourself some trouble and read River Town: Two Years on the Yangtzeinstead. Iron and Silk is essentially a watered-down, less intellectual version of Hessler's classic read on China's recovery post 1978 yet not post-Mao. It's not a horrible book, but it wanes in comparison to River Town. Essentially, the only unique quality that Mark Salzman brings is his experience with gong fu and marsial arts. Additionally, some of the Mandarin and cultural aspects citied in the book are very localized t ...more
Oct 21, 2009 Rebecca rated it really liked it
Surprisingly lovely and personal vignettes. I was really tempted to resent this author, at whose feet all of 1980s China seemed to fall on account of his white skin and youthful charm. But it's sort of impossible not to be won over... a fearlessly social soul armed with a sense of humor and a lifelong dedication to Chinese martial arts / language, Salzman comfortably slips into all the crannies of a very closed society. Beautiful, honest writing about the intensity and absurdity of living abroad ...more
Oct 16, 2007 Sv added it
damn! the guy speaks Chinese, does kick-ass gong fu (sic) AND can write?

dated but in an interesting, pre-boom China way
need to read some new travel writing to compare
very funny, concise, well-written. a quick, satisfying read.
Jan 26, 2011 Melissa rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel, china
This was a nice little book. While it was rather short, it was filled with delightful impressions and stories from the author's time spent in China. Mark Salzman had originally gone to China to teach English at a medical school to both the teachers and some students. He found so much more and learned quite a bit in his time there as well.

Most specifically, Salzman tells us in this autobiography of sorts of his time spent learning "Wushu" which is Chinese martial arts. He shares adventuresome and
Stephen Gallup
Feb 01, 2012 Stephen Gallup rated it really liked it
I'd been under the impression of already having read this one, along with practically everything else Salzman has written. I picked it up the other day only because all the books now in my queue are in the Kindle, and I have to share that gadget with another avid reader in the family. It turns out I'd only seen the video for Iron and Silk.

Since Salzman had a hand in making the movie (and played himself), the two versions of the story of his two years in China are probably equally valid. I think
May 20, 2012 Unwisely rated it liked it
Another engrossing memoir about a guy's time in China, this time in the 1980s. It was almost a different world from American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China. (Am tempted to look for earlier ones. Maybe I'll finally read Pearl Buck?)

This was an engaging read, with anecdotes from the author's two years teaching English in China. This story clearly evoked the misunderstandings and cultural confusion that I always felt while studying
Dee Andreas
I have to admit my initial reaction to this book was disappointment. This was because I found myself comparing it to Salzman's Lost in Place, a memoir that chronicles his childhood obsession with Chinese culture and martial arts in a more novelistic fashion, while Iron and Silk felt like short memories being relayed as they came to mind... I found myself annoyed at times with the way Salzman surmised certain conversations or events without allowing me to experience those moments with him, as he ...more
Salzman has created a work of art out his experiences in China, his quick wit, and his charismatic personality. This book leaves nothing to be desired.

Salzman went to China for two years in the 1980s. There he taught English to a several classes of students (and several English Teachers), travel around the city and the country, and learn martial arts. He proves himself to be a master story teller with a casual, relaxed and smooth style. You get the feeling he's sitting in the room, sharing his
Nov 11, 2012 Francoise rated it really liked it
I think this book is about gifts. Salzman recounts his two years in China in the early 80s as an English teacher. China is barely open to the West at that point (if one could say it is now) and the people he encounters often freeze with their mouths open when they first see this exotic being, a white man. Then they invite him to their homes, take him on as a student (of several martial arts schools, of callipgraphy) and shower him with gifts. As a woman tells him towards the end of his stay, he ...more
Jun 14, 2010 Ensiform rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, travel, china
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
May 03, 2014 Novem rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I really liked Mark Salzman's writing style in True Notebooks, and this book was no different. I love his ability to convey so much in short, simple sentences. I was a bit worried that his descriptions of China would be a little bit dated since this was published in the 80s, but there are still many things that ring true to me. My favorite essay is "Kissing" because I could completely relate to that particular way of expressing affection/love at the end of the essay. While most of the stories ar ...more
Megan Stolz
I read this as part of a writing/reading project that explored Americans abroad. I was particularly interested in reading about Americans in Asia since that was the topic of my own writing. This was the second book I read of an American in China, specifically, the other one being "River Town" by Peter Kessler. I have to admit, I enjoyed Kessler's book much more. Salzman's book is interesting, but to a point. He is a graduate of the Chinese Language and Literature program at Yale, so while his wr ...more
Sheila Callahan
Oct 25, 2012 Sheila Callahan rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012-reads
Mark Salzman graduated Summa Cum Laude from Yale in 1982 and then journeyed to China to teach English at a medical college for two years. In Hunan, where he lived and taught, he continued to master Chinese martial arts and calligraphy, which along with Chinese language, he had started to study at age 13. By his early twenties, his Chinese language appeared to be quite strong, as did his martial art skills. Iron and Silk is a set of small vignettes depicting his encounters with the teachers and s ...more
Karen GoatKeeper
Aug 12, 2014 Karen GoatKeeper rated it really liked it
Shelves: read2014
Think of visiting with a young friend just back from a memorable trip and you have a good idea what reading this book is like. Salzman has an easy style that flows through his many experiences in 1980-'s China. Many of them are around his wushu or martial arts teachers. Through these people he meets so many other Chinese such as a family of boat people, artists, musicians, professional people and ordinary people. He sees and tells of a side of China of this time rarely seen and definitely never ...more
jiawei Ong
Sep 05, 2012 jiawei Ong rated it it was amazing
Besides obtaining the spirit of faith, I have grasp something else equally as valuable through Iron and Silk. Iron and Silk tells the tale of Salzman, himself, and his experiences in China as an American English teacher and a student of a top martial arts master. This unique cultural and background mixture encourages me to mix new qualities in to my life as well. Life is incorrectly defined as just a game, but life is actually a mixture, or a combination of the many different adventures an indi ...more
Chilly SavageMelon
May 25, 2009 Chilly SavageMelon rated it really liked it
Well presented stories from a guy who went to central China to teach English in 1983-4. A bit scary in some ways, as I am soon of to do this same thing myself...but meanwhile it's been a quarter century of rapid changes for them. Some "issues" for westerners will be the same, some not so much. Hopefully many "discovered joys" for westerners will remain...
A quick and easily digestible read. Also excellent "thanks for helping with the wedding" gift from a groom who studies martial arts to a corpul
Dec 03, 2007 David rated it really liked it
Like Autumn Lightning, I first read this book in middle school during a phase when I read everything I could find about martial arts. Like Autumn Lightning, I have revisited it periodically ever since, not because of the martial arts connection, but simply because it tells good stories about interesting characters. This is really a book of anecdotes about the sometimes interesting, sometimes irritating, always very human people that Salzman met as a young English teacher in China in the early 80 ...more
Annette Roman
Nov 22, 2015 Annette Roman rated it it was amazing
I really enjoy this author, and this is an early (first?) book of his. I don't like poetry (find it too dense) but I love economically written prose that tells you everything you need to know but no more. Salzman's experiences in China in the 90's (80's) are fascinating and unique, as he gets taken under the wing of various masters of the martial arts and calligraphy. He boils down what must have been millions of fascinating experiences into their essential elements. Also reminds me of why some ...more
dead letter office
Apr 28, 2008 dead letter office rated it liked it
really a pretty excellent travel memoir about teaching english in communist china in the 1980's. he's a great storyteller and the characters (himself included) are unusual and memorable. he does a good job of conveying the strangeness of living in a place so utterly foreign that you can be taken for a ghost. he's the rare type who managed to fully embrace a place in which he'd always be set apart. i saw a movie once about a foreigner in china (i can't remember the name... i saw it in the theater ...more
Jul 05, 2011 Robbie rated it really liked it
Although I typically dread my summer reading books, and I did kind of rush this one as school begins Tuesday, I found that I really enjoyed Iron and Silk. Although sometimes dated, it is entirely a collection of true short "stories" following Mark Salzman during his years in China, while he was teaching english. Each and every story is entertaining, and all very short, so there is always new subject matter, ranging from a foreigner adjusting to Chinese culture to becoming an expert in martial ar ...more
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Mark Salzman is an award-winning novelist and nonfiction author who has written on a variety of subjects, from a graceful novel about a Carmelite nun’s ecstatic visions and crisis of faith to a compelling memoir about growing up a misfit in a Connecticut suburb – clearly displaying a range that transcends genre. As a boy, all Salzman ever wanted was to be a Kung Fu master, but it was his proficien ...more
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“Every moment a beginning. Every moment an end.” 3 likes
“This book," he began, "is very, very unsuitable." He paused, then went on. "In fact, in my whole life, I have never read or even imagined something so unsuitable." Here he stopped, still staring at me. He held the book up slightly and pointed at it with his chin. "May I keep it?” 1 likes
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