This book is just like the backpackers who lug it through India. It's not quite sure where it's going, it spends ages trying to get there, and while i...moreThis book is just like the backpackers who lug it through India. It's not quite sure where it's going, it spends ages trying to get there, and while it's desperately looking for some kind of deep meaning, in the end there really isn't one.
The novel's strong suit is its fantastic view of Bombay in the 80s. For anyone who has spent time in the city, it's fascinating to see how much has changed in the last 30 years and how much remains strikingly similar.
Enough of the characters pride themselves on their wit that there are a number of clever one-liners that are worth noting, but the overall discussion of philosophy weighed down the plot without adding to it. Perhaps it could be used to justify some of the characters' choices, but even the protagonist himself never seems to buy into it completely.
Given its memoir style, the book doesn't have a very strong or clear story arc, and the plot drifts from scene to scene without an overall story. In many ways this stays more true to life, but unfortunately Roberts makes an effort to tie up every loose end he creates. I felt that this cheapened the effect, because in the same way that life rarely has clear endings, we don't always find closure. Part of the book's charm was watching Lin struggle to accept life's unanswered questions, but in the end Roberts makes an unsatisfying attempt to answer them all for us.(less)
Other than the setting, I didn't feel there was anything terribly unique about this book. It's a light, quick read, but t...moreJessica Darling Goes to Paris
Other than the setting, I didn't feel there was anything terribly unique about this book. It's a light, quick read, but the story and the writing both seemed like something I've read before.
On a positive note, the brief internal struggle and confusion Anna faces when she returns home to visit after a few months abroad was pleasantly realistic. While the book does put the usual glossy sheen on moving overseas, it at least mentions a few of the more difficult aspects.(less)
The world Bacigalupi brings to life in this book is absolutely phenomenal, seamlessly blending the rich, vibrant world of early colonialism and the bl...moreThe world Bacigalupi brings to life in this book is absolutely phenomenal, seamlessly blending the rich, vibrant world of early colonialism and the bleak prospects of a dystopian future. Its nuances cultivate a number of thought-provoking discussions about the balance between economic and environmental concerns as well as questions of humanity and evolution.
As a vehicle for its message, this world is second to none, and I found myself eagerly returning to the pages to immerse myself in it. However, I didn't feel that the plot or the characters were quite as well developed. They were certainly adequate, but I felt drawn in much more by the setting than by an interest in the story.(less)
This book was almost exactly what I wanted it to be, and I've been waiting to find it for quite a while.
Ever since I lived in Beijing, I've thought to...moreThis book was almost exactly what I wanted it to be, and I've been waiting to find it for quite a while.
Ever since I lived in Beijing, I've thought to myself that someone should write a piece of chick-lit set in the Beijing ex-pat scene. It's an exciting and unusual setting, filled with drama and spice - the perfect setting for a racy, quick-paced novel. Ann Mah has finally filled that niche.
Mah's story uses food as a common ground for making China relatable to a traditional Western audience and does a fine job of describing the unique flavors and unusual dishes that characterize authentic Chinese food. Her descriptions made my mouth water for favorite dishes I had long-since forgotten.
Moreover, I enjoyed comparing and contrasting my own experiences adjusting to life in Beijing with Isabelle's. Many things were familiar (Mah and I lived in the city at the same time, though as far as I know we never met), but it was most interesting to read about the particular culture shock of an American-born Chinese. As a distinct foreigner, I had to learn to deal with the stares of the locals rather than the isolation of disappearing into a crowd.
I have only two points of criticism with the book. The first is that the romantic plot is very stereotypical chick-lit. Early into the book, that paired with the voice of the writing, actually made me think it was written by a ghost writer. However, I wasn't reading this book for the plot as much as for the setting and its related personal nostalgia. My other issue was that while Mah's background with The Beijinger gave her the skill to explain China's food to the reader, her descriptions of other details of Beijing seemed to come up a bit short. I felt that the book didn't really bring the city to life or offer the casual reader the window into this world that I had hoped it would.
Overall, I think Mah's novel was an enjoyable read. Although it's light enough to appeal to a chick-lit audience, it does have a bit of substance and a sense of place. I'd like to hope that readers will come away with (at least in some small measure) a better understanding of China.
...And if nothing else, they will come away with a healthy appetite!(less)
I found the book to very hit or miss. Some of the chapters were very heavy on the travel writing, and some seemed to be filled mostly with summaries o...moreI found the book to very hit or miss. Some of the chapters were very heavy on the travel writing, and some seemed to be filled mostly with summaries of academic research. Some chapters I really enjoyed, but others felt were shallow and unoriginal.
I definitely noticed that I liked the book a lot more once I'd made it beyond the first few chapters. Neither his introduction nor his epilogue was particularly engaging, and I think the chapter in the Netherlands might have been the worst overall. The chapter is generally unfocused and the writing sounds contrived and repetitive (Count the number of times in these pages he describes something and then has a "Eureka!" moment followed by a clever observation). Luckily, there is noticeable improvement in the book, and I was able to read most of the rest without gnashing my teeth at it.
In general, I think the book does manage to illustrate some interesting and potentially useful ideas. I've often wondered why I feel so much happier living in Scandinavia than I did living in the US. I've developed a lot of my own theories, but I think most of them are extensions to a few of the key points Weiner mentions (most notably - a stronger sense of community and more human interaction, and a noticeable lack of envy and ambition). Although the root of happiness certainly can and will vary from person to person, I wish Weiner had written a stronger conclusion in his epilogue. Aside from the points that I personally recognized and related to, there are a few other ideas that Weiner emphasizes earlier in the book, but the last few pages just don't seem to say much of anything.(less)
Like its characters, this book feels lost and confused. It just doesn't seem to know what it's trying to be. Filled with beautiful but disjoint phrase...moreLike its characters, this book feels lost and confused. It just doesn't seem to know what it's trying to be. Filled with beautiful but disjoint phrases evoking the scenery of colonial Hong Kong, the novel is one part travel memoir, one part poetry, and one part novel. Unfortunately, the plot doesn't feel developed enough to carry the book, and at times I thought that Greenway would make a much better travel writer than novelist.
At times, the book is overly descriptive, making it hard to follow. But at others, I felt that descriptions were missing, and that it would be hard for the reader to picture the scene without having been there herself. The choppy phrases can inspire a flood of memories in one who's shared similar experiences, but fall short of painting the scene for those who have not.(less)