Mateo's Reviews > Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China

Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang
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Aug 10, 09


Some people, when they travel, are most amazed by the differences they find ... the donkeys, the tuk-tuks, the rat-on-a-platter, the strange drinks and weird foods. Others are most taken aback by the unexpected similarities: the corn farmer with a cell phone, the slum dweller playing Grand Theft Auto 4, the kids who rock out to punk and metal. The best travel writers and foreign reporters, though, simply see.

This is a splendid, splendid book. It's not only better than I expected, it might even be better than it has any right to be, because it so easily could have been awful. It so easily could have been another why-China-will-rule-the-world book, or another how-the-West-is-ruining-the-East book, or even--since the author weaves the story of her own family's immigrations into the larger story of the current mass migration from farm to factory--another ersatz Joy Luck Club wannabe about how tough it is to be Chinese. Instead, it's a perceptive, funny, sympathetic, and often deeply moving story of forgotten people and forgotten histories. Chang, in profiling the women who come from rural China to the bustling factories of the southern provinces, provides a compelling narrative of the way that the people of China are trapped between the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and those of unfettered hyper-capitalism, and she does so in a way that is critical and clear-eyed, yet refrains from easy potshots and sweeping judgments.

If Factory Girls is a little short on analysis, it is full of insight. It is also surprisingly well written ("The houses of Liutai sat amid rolling hills, each one set apart from the next and facing a different direction, like a fistful of dice flung across the valley"); its final paragraph reminded me of nothing so much as the lovely, elegiac ending of A Bend in the River, also a fine book about being far from home. I expect more good things from Ms. Chang. She is a writer who sees.
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