Natasha Hurley-Walker's Reviews > China Mountain Zhang

China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh
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's review
May 31, 2012

really liked it
Read from May 27 to 31, 2012

A bold and thought-provoking novel set in a future where most capitalist societies have imploded and China has risen to comfortably dominate the world - not with military might, but by sensibly managing energy and resources, and developing a bright and optimistic culture that values education. The book consists of a series of interlinking short stories which start with and drop in and out of the life of Zhang Zhongshan, an 'American-Born Chinese' (ABC) who struggles to find happiness and identity in a challenging world.

The story is not fast-paced; there are no aliens, robots, nanotech, computers plotting world domination, spaceships -- well, ok, there are a couple of spaceships -- but overall the plot tracks normal people living in this strangely compelling future. Things are not perfect but they make do, and the way the vignettes link individuals gives the reader a feel for how the different characters appear to each other. McHugh does a good impression of an Asian internal voice, at least from my limited exposure (Ishiguro, Murakami... now I feel embarrassed that I cannot think of any Chinese authors, only Japanese!) At times the characters do feel a little detached, like they don't react strongly enough to situations. But perhaps they're all working 12-hour days and are just knackered.

While I was reading, I felt like the future seemed a drab and sad place, under the boot of resource shortages and society still puttering along on ancient 20th-century infrastructure. Then I had a think about the alternatives, given the impending energy crisis and likely climate change, and realised that the book may be overly optimistic. Completely by coincidence, on the same day I finished the book, I listened to an excellent podcast which noted that China is the only country in the world that seems to have anything close to a long-term plan. Suddenly I feel the urge to start learning Mandarin...

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