Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside tells the story of two Americans living and teaching in rural China. The first, Thomas, is an entitled deadbeat, content to pass the rest of his days in Asia skating by on the fact that he's white, while the second, a recent college graduate named Daniel, is an idealist at heart. Over the course of the novel, these two characters fight to establish primacy in Ningyuan, a remote town in the south of Hunan, with one of their more overzealous students, Bella, caught in between. Quincy Carroll's cleverly written debut novel examines what we bring from one country to another.
Whether or not one would like this novel about English teachers in rural China, has much to do with whether one has been an English teacher in China. And also how long one has been in China...
The whole expat-in-Asia first novel has become a bit of a cottage industry genre unto itself. I am perhaps guilty of this cliche as well, but let's not get into my own perspective and I'll try to be as broadly objective as I can.
That's just the thing though, this "genre" is by its nature subjective. Basically, if you have recently moved to Asia or are considering the move or just still in that mindset when everything is fresh and new, then Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside is a fascinating and possibly familiar tale of this grand setting that is CHINA.
Yet, it must be said, if you have read ten other novels with a similar theme then it gets tiresome after a while. Yes, being a westerner in China/Rising Asia is interesting. And at the same time, it's not really unique anymore. This general story has been told again and again. Usually the job is ESL teaching. Sometimes it takes place in the depraved big city, and sometimes in the less developed countryside. It's almost always, romantically speaking, about a white guy dating naive local girls.
So as this extremely niche genre goes, Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside is a very well-written one. The protagonists are two Foils, a young upright teacher who just moved to Ningyuan, and a scummy older guy who just likes to drink and is terrible at his job. Obviously. There is much detail about the job and the landscape, beautifully written with controlled prose. I particularly liked the dialogue style which works with regards to characters not always speaking English. One senses that it is at least a semi-autobiographical novel, which is both a strength and a weakness.
Quincy Carroll is definitely a talented writer, but I must say I would be more curious to see how his writing develops when he doesn't quite write what he knows. China is a very big place, and there are so many more stories to be told than this one yet again. Not bad as a first novel goes, there is potential, but I for one would like more.
So if you're a fresh expat, this novel is recommended. For a jaded old hand, I have to say it's less recommended.
Quincy Carroll is an American who taught English in China and who recently published his first novel: Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside (which for the rest of this book review I am going to refer to simply as “Mountains“). The title refers to a type of punishment during the Cultural Revolution when bourgeois urban youth were sent away from their comfortable city homes and forced to live amongst the peasants out in the countryside. China, indeed, has many hells. However in Mountains, it isn’t Chinese youth who are being sent to faraway villages, it’s two American teachers.
As the blurb says, the book focuses in on the yin and the yang of Thomas and Daniel. Thomas is an aging and cynical teacher who doesn’t have much good to say about anybody. Daniel is an earnest young chap with dyed red hair and a passion for integrating himself with the locals. The plot of the book is very much centred around a clash of personalities between the two English teachers. An overenthusiastic student named Bella presents most of the opportunity for conflict between the two. Apart from the three main characters, there are also a few other members of the cast including a foreign teacher couple, a washed-up divorced Chinese teacher who lives in the library and a hustling wannabe entrepeuneur.
I’m pleased to be able to say that Mountains is actually rather good. I don’t give ratings on these book reviews but if I did then it would happily get a nice 4 out of 5. I have mentioned previously that I have a guilty secret of enjoying badly written books by foreigners about their time in China. There are many many many of these memoirs doing the rounds, not only in China, but across all of Asia. I enjoy reading them because there is a certain sense of schadenfreude that somebody out there is having it worse than you and/or is writing about it in a way that oneself could do better. Carroll still focuses on the empty floating lives that many foreigners in China experience, yet he has managed to avoid most of the pitfalls that expat writers tend to fall into. For starters, the book isn’t just a chronicle of a series of drunken exploits (that in itself wouldn’t be too bad, but nobody so far has ever done a good job of doing so). By injecting autobiographical elements into a fictional story spread across two antagonists, Carroll is able to explore a multi-faceted view of the expat experience that wouldn’t be possible when just discussing himself.
That’s not to say the book is perfect: it isn’t. In fact, there are a couple of parts that are downright annoying. However, these are stylistic problems rather than thematic. The author is obviously a big fan of Cormac McCarthy and it shows a little too much. Out of Cormac McCarthy’s bibliography I’ve only personally read The Road; and while I can fully appreciate imitating the prose style of a book about a post-apocalyptic poisoned wasteland when writing about China, at times it is taken too far. The non-usage of quotation marks during conversations seems unnecessary and is often confusing. Likewise, the author (especially at the beginning of the novel) occasionally uses needlessly obscure words that I had never even heard of (and I’ve read every single one of HP Lovecraft’s short stories) thus forgetting George Orwell’s maxim “Never use a long word where a short word will do.” The usage of these strange words like “muntin” and “clerestory” seem to add touches of local flavour that would seem more suited to a novel set in New England rather than rural China.
However, these are minor flaws. Where Mountains succeeds it succeeds well. The best and most accurately described character in the whole book is not one of the teachers or their students, but the city of Ningyuan itself.This gloriously filthy backwater comes alive in Carroll’s descriptions of dingy back alleys and bland concrete buildings. The writer also is obviously a keen reader and student of fiction as he weaves in detailed metaphors and allusions throughout the book – I particularly enjoyed the constant comparisons between dogs on the street and the two foreign teachers. When Carroll describes the “mindless Pomeranians panting in the gutter, dressed in clothes” I immediately knew what he what he was alluding to. The final chapter is also delightfully ambiguous.
My only wish for this book is that Carroll had expanded more on the “bad” foreigner Thomas. It’s clear that neither Daniel or Thomas are really as black and white as they initially appear, but I felt that the author was at times unnecessarily biased against the older, more cynical teacher. This isn’t to say that there isn’t balance. Far from it, Carroll goes to great pains to illustrate the dark side of the younger Daniel (sleeping with prostitutes, his self-delusion, his attention seeking, etc). When Daniel announces with a great pride that he tattooed the words of the Chinese city he lives in on his arm and is building an aeolian harp on the school roof so that the students can remember him forever, I laughed out loud and shouted “What a cock!” Unfortunately this balance is not extended to Daniel’s antagonist Thomas nearly as much as it should be. We are told that he is “arrogant, lewd, and racist” but we are not shown much evidence to support this. There is hardly any backstory to Thomas at all. Mountains is a short and breezy read, so it’s a shame that a few extra pages on how Thomas became so cynical were not added.
The moral of the story is that neither an overly-idealistic approach or an overly-cynical approach to living in a foreign country is the key to happiness. One way will lead to continuous attention-seeking and naivety, the other will close you off to anything positive before it even happens. I was happy to see that Carroll briefly mentions a third teacher – Christopher – who appears to have the balance right: working and playing alongside the Chinese but not trying to make himself a clown in order to gain attention.
Most foreigners in China claim after their TEFL stints have concluded that they could write a book about their experiences. Here, Carroll actually does so and with great success. Despite the huge numbers of foreigners who come to teach in China every year, there are still very few good novels describing the experience. Finally we have a decent book that digs deep into the life of the TEFL teacher, and unlike Peter Hessler’s sterile River Town, actually isn’t afraid to reveal some of the dark side too.
An incredibly well written book, and a must-read for anyone who loves travel, Southeast Asia, and/or good literature. Of particular note are the powerful descriptions of China as well as the range of characters that Carroll introduces throughout the book. It was interesting to recognize aspects of people I've met while living abroad, and even parts of myself, in these characters.
This book could be called the beauty of idealism or the death of it. The only knowledge I have about China has come from literature and my Uncle (professor of anthropology who sadly passed away recently) who traveled there. The knowledge I have of teaching in foreign countries also came from him and another Uncle- stories galore about culture clashes. My own experience, from having lived in Japan- because western culture sometimes seems alien by comparison, I can well relate to misunderstandings and feeling lost in a foreign setting. It's more than just a language barrier, it's the very marrow of having grown up with traditions that can't be learned from a simple book. Thomas and Daniel are different, make no mistake, but can one be bad, the other good? I'm not sure- because there were things about both of them that were unappealing. One is eager to find purpose and the other doesn't seem to give a damn. The beauty is in Daniel's struggle to give his life meaning, to create a life, to make a difference. So many young men and women wander aimlessly after college thinking- with one thought 'now what?". It takes a lot to abandon your home country and make it anywhere else in the world, but in an exotic country as rich in culture as China-well, it isn't something many people could do. It's a fascinating look at the difference between the reality of a place as opposed to what one imagines it will be like. Do American's teaching abroad do as much harm as good? Two men with vastly different experiences of the country they are in, and their struggles with each other. One is positive, the other just taking advantage of his position. But neither will remain untouched by their experience. A strong debut.
2.5 stars. While I appreciated the honesty and what I suspect is a very realistic portrayal of life in rural China, to be honest I found this book very depressing and somewhat lacking in depth. I felt that the characters were realistic, but such sad, sad losers, struggling with their demons and unable to take steps to move on. At one point in my reading I debated giving up, but did persevere and am glad that I finished it. Certainly not a feel-good book, that's for sure.
This is Quincy's debut novel and I am so glad I got the chance to read it! I thought I was going to hit some challenged along the way since this is different than what I usually read but I am so glad that didn't happen. In the contrary, once I cracked ope the spine, I couldn't put it down. Quincy's writing is extremely easy to follow and visualize. I ended up reading this in one sitting because of it. I felt myself being easily transported to a country I have never experienced but after this book, I felt like I took a vacation there. This was an enjoyable read plus a learning experience. What I found unique about the writing was the fact that the dialogue lacked quotation marks. I have no idea if this is because it's an ARC or not but like I mentioned, it was super easy to follow along nonetheless. This book follows two men, Thomas and Daniel, who are English teachers in China and both get their own POV's. Daniel is almost fluent in their language while Thomas isn't. Both of these men are like water and oil. They both teach in the same school and are linked by one student, Bella. I was fine with her character in the first half of the story but reaching the second half, I couldn't stand her at all. Thomas neither for the most part, but I still couldn't put it down. I find myself missing these characters a lot, especially Daniel. His POV was my absolute favorite. I got to see the struggles he faced with himself and it was heart wrenching. I wanted to reach into the pages and comfort him. I hope Quincy writes a sequel to this because there are some unanswered questions but if he doesn't, then I will cherish the moments I had with these characters completely. Each one was extremely realistic and unique, I almost felt like I was reading an autobiography. I wish I could book a vacation to meet this Daniel, he really left an impression on me.
Based on the author’s own experience, this is the story of Thomas and Daniel, teachers of English in China. With very different characters and outlooks, the tension between them drives the narrative, and their perspectives on teaching, their Chinese students and life in China all combine to make this an original and compelling drama. Cynical Thomas is in his 60s, disillusioned and almost constantly drunk. Idealistic Daniel, enthusiastic and responsible, popular with his students, wants to do his job as best he can. What unites them is one of the students, Bella, whose demands on them both become increasingly hard to handle. With excellent and convincing character studies, an authentic portrayal of contemporary China, its culture and daily life, the aspirations and hopes of the Chinese students, the account of ex-pat life and the educational system, the book is full of interest and conjures up a world few of us will ever know. Told with empathy and understanding, the book illuminates whilst it entertains, and I very much enjoyed it.
Up To The Mountains and Down To The Countryside is one of the more challenging yet fulfilling books I’ve read in recent years. It deals with a world far removed from my own. That said, the thoughts and struggles expressed are universal, enabling me to not only sympathize, but relate. I highly recommend this read.
I really enjoyed it. A lot of it for me was that it seemed to be a book written just for me, as a young American male who went abroad to teach and had that be a big part of who I ended up being. As such, I related so much to what the author described and showed in the book. It had a very lived-in feel for me, it really did. A lot of the protagonist's experience traveling or meeting people or, like holidays and holiday plans (just getting accustomed to a the holiday patterns of a different place), or just riding around or working or thinking--I could see myself then in that. And the characters--especially Bella--just seem almost directly pasted from people or composites of people I have known.
It was almost a strange experience reading a novelization of something so similar to my experience, and I think the book did a nice job of dealing with the emotions and feelings and experiences and, yeah, the existential nature of, to use a problematic term, maybe, being a privileged "expat" in a foreign country.
A beautiful account and reflection on the rather universal process of uprooting oneself to a different place, while simultaneously painting an honest and touching portrait of rural China, full of lovely & ingenious little details. A good reminder of the beautiful lessons of getting comfortable being uncomfortable + food for thought about what we search for deep down when we travel... Strongly recommended read overall!
I'm not completely sure how I feel about this book yet; I think it's the kind of book you have to talk through with someone else. I enjoyed reading it, and it created a very realistic albeit sometimes depressing depiction of life in a foreign country. However, it left me with a sort of unfulfilled feeling--in part due to the malaise echoed in one of the main characters, and partly from the vague ending. I'm not convinced this wasn't the author's intention.
Although I mostly appreciate the pensive writing style, some of the author's vocabulary choices come off as unnatural. Even if a word's meaning fits the situation, the connotation or obscurity of a word can make its placement feel clunky or pretentious. Some of my favorite authors (Chabon, Faulkner) are just as guilty. Despite its etymology having nothing to do with the n-word, the phonetic similarity of the word "niggardly" makes it difficult to justify its use. You have to imagine an editor asking if this choice was worth the potential insensitivity, or if it was the author's intention to comment on the weirdness of language and race. I know it's nit picky, but there are a few other examples where specific words actually detract from the prose.
Significant portions of the book are spoken in Mandarin, which could create a similar effect of obscuring meaning. However, I actually really appreciate this conceit -- not just for the use of Chinese puns, but because it helps establish mood and authenticity. As a very casual speaker of Mandarin, I understood some but not all of the phrases rendered in pinyin (but without tonal marks), which capture the feeling of not quite knowing what people are saying and filling in the blanks, often incorrectly --a phenomenon any visitor to another country will recognize.
I'd recommend this book to any student or practitioner of development, Asian studies, or international relations, and any Westerner who has taught English abroad. You are bound to see a few familiar characters and experiences. If you are a white person uncritical of whiteness, this is not the book for you.
Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside is the story of two outsiders. Daniel is a young ESL teacher who tries to ingratiate himself with China. He has great Mandarin, understands the culture and takes his job seriously.
Thomas has recently arrived from a kindergarten in Changsha, where it’s implied that his departure was not by choice. Daniel gets him signed on at the last minute, and Thomas is not the least bit grateful. Quite the opposite: he believes it is the school’s duty to hire him, China is his playground.
In that way Thomas is like many older men I worked with in China. Compared to Daniel, Thomas is cynical, making no effort to understand China. He passes cold judgments and gives his teaching duties the same enthusiasm you would muster for sweeping a dirty floor.
Daniel is the young optimist, less set in his ways. Throughout the book he displays a fondness for Chinese culture absent in Thomas. For Daniel, as for many expats, China is a place for discovery. For Daniel, that dream is still vivid:
"They asked [Daniel] about China, but he could not articulate how it had changed him, for, despite trying his hardest, he could not explain it to himself. There was a wildness to the country that fulfilled certain promises in his heart, promises he had made to himself as a boy but had long since forgotten."
The China described in this book was brimming with possibility, opportunity, and the barriers that held you in check back home are gone. Daniel seeks what he wants, understands what he doesn’t want: to live a quiet life of work like his friends. As for what he does want, he decides the best solution is to integrate himself into Chinese culture.
Thomas makes no effort, thumbing his nose at everything they do, barely speaking Mandarin. Tension between Daniel and Thomas grows, climaxing at a Spring Festival dinner. After Daniel calls out Thomas for being a creepy lecher, Thomas points out:
"After all is said and done, he’s here for the exact same reasons as the rest of us: easy living, zero responsibility, and a chance to make himself into whatever he wants."
The truth of that statement cannot be glossed over. No matter what Daniel tells himself, the Middle Kingdom is a place where Daniel can work little, live freely and dream the eternal dreams of youth in a developing Never-Never Land where responsibility comes to die.
Daniel understands that Thomas has a point, that Daniel is also an outsider no matter how hard he tries. He gets a taste of this earlier, before argument with Thomas. Daniel is close to the carpenter and his family — the carpenter’s son shares his English name — and Daniel agrees to celebrate Spring Festival at their house, bringing the carpenter some whiskey.
Over dinner they commend Daniel on his Mandarin, and we slowly see what Daniel is: an oddity. A show. They pressure him into eating a dog’s paw, and after a heavy round of drinking the men turn on their new karaoke machine. Daniel doesn’t want to sing, but…
"When Hong noticed him standing there, he stood up and started pointing — first at Daniel, then at the screen. He pulled him by the forearm to where he had been standing, then gave him a microphone and sat down. Laowai chang! he shouted, to the approval of everyone else. Then he started chanting: Laowai chang! Laowai chang!"
They want Daniel to dance for them. He refuses, but in the end he does what every other laowai does, no matter how hard they try to resist.
All of us who teach English in China are migrant laowai. Some just acknowledge it. For all of Daniel’s attempts to integrate himself, one must ask, is he successful?
Thomas isn’t, and it is clear that he stopped trying years ago. While Daniel is a migrant laowai in denial, Thomas understands not only what he is, but that it is too late to change. After Thomas wears out his welcome, he pulls a midnight runner; we then find him in Bangkok, ready to start fresh:
"Hailing a cab, he paid the driver using the last of his money, then climbed into the backseat and nodded off, dreaming of Bangkok. He knew that he would have a drink in his hand soon enough, and, after all, he had always been a believer in second chances."
East Asia offers many men second chances. For men like Thomas, it offers third and fourth chances too. Men like Daniel are still on their first.
Men like Thomas better hope the supply never runs out.
**I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways**
Let me just get this out of the way now - this book has no quotation marks. None. It's very hard to decipher when two people are having a dialogue, who is speaking, and even if they are saying something aloud or in their head. I had an internal debate on whether the author was trying to make a point, if it was for artistic purposes, if the editor charged more for quotation marks, etc. then decided no reason was good enough. It annoyed the hell out of me.
I was excited to win this book in the giveaway as I have spent quite a bit of time in China myself. I do have to say the author did a pretty good job of describing rural China and it's people. It is such a different world where people have grown up with a mindset and ideals that are hard to wrap your head around if you are a Westerner. The settings, the people and events surrounding them, with these the author was fairly spot on. Some of the things made me laugh - the little dogs panting in the gutters (all wearing clothes), the women out in the street selling hamsters, and of course "English Corner". No matter where you are, city or country, you will find an English Corner taking place and as a foreigner you are garunteed to be grabbed off the street to join in. It made me nostalgic for all the little seemingly odd things you can find going on during any given day or night in China and I really enjoyed reading about them.
Unfortunately that's the only positive I can give. The book was just dull with no clear plot or direction. I literally had to force myself to continue reading it. I didn't like any of the characters from Bella the annoying brat, to Thomas the old lecher, Imogene and Christofer who only fight, and Neil who was just gross. I didn't even like Daniel who I thought was just a big whiner with all his "Oh poor me! Whatever am I going to do with my unfufilling overly privileged life?!" With the poor character development and almost nonexistent plot, the novel just didn't work. The author was so good at bringing the foreigness, humorous and often baffling aspects of life in China to life I really think he would do much better with a memoir type of format in the future. I don't think I would try another novel by him but I would definitely consider a memoir and think it would probably be a great read. But this particular book just wasn't for me.
This is an extremely well written book. It presents the reader with a real portrait of a young man (Daniel) who is struggling to find his purpose and direction in life set amidst the very well depicted (but not flattering) backdrop of China. The novel's plot introduces us to drifting expats, eager Chinese students, the education system, and constant compare of having escaped "life back home".
The book's plot and characters help illustrate the continuing struggle between Daniel's idealism and individualism and the not as idealic reality of where life has taken him so far. I was able to connect closely with Daniel: he is generally a happy and confident person. And yet he is struggling to convince himself whether his decision to go off the beaten path is really taking him where he wants to go in life. China is his thing ("everyone wants to think that they are the only foreigner living in China") but it's not his end game. Daniel is also not a perfect or wholly consistent person, nor are the fellow teachers and students. The depiction of other expats (most notably Guillard) are also honest and quite memorable.
This book is a must read for anyone who has lived in China. And it will be a great read for anyone else. There are a few tense moments, some funny ones (has anyone brought a live duck to yourself after you invited them for dinner?), and some universal questions raised.
For context, like the author and the characters of the book, I spent quite a few years living in China. Reading this made me strangely nostalgic with many laugh-out-load moments (the author really captures the essence of experiencing life in China through a foreigners eyes). For those who don't speak basic Chinese, the occasional Chinese phrases will leave you feeling (as many foreigners in chian feel) in the dark about what exactly transpired until a few sentences later where you catch from context what's happened.
The novel tells the story of Daniel and Thomas, who are both foreigners living in a small town in China. Despite their similar circumstances the two of them couldn’t be more different. While Daniel lives his life trying to embrace everything around him, Thomas lives as if he’s making the world a favor just by existing. UTTMADTTC is told by both their POV’s.
I’m an International Relations student and I am fascinated by other cultures. I was born and raised in a big city in Brazil, but I had the opportunity to live in a small town in Minnesota, USA when I was 16. That being said I felt like I could relate with both characters deeply. It’s no easy experience to leave everything behind to live in a different country, especially one with such a different culture and I could understand the cultural shocks both characters were faced with. I was mesmerized by Carroll’s writing. The way he describes the settings made me feel like I was in the middle of rural China with the characters and that’s such a gift to be given by an author! This book was such an amazing ride.
Plot-wise the book was also very strong. The author’s writing style really spoke to me and I read the entire book in one sitting. I meant to read just a chapter since I’m in the middle of finals, but I just couldn’t bring myself to put it down. What a journey! I really hope to read more about these characters, but especially more from Quincy Carroll. I believe with all my heart that we can expect amazing things from him in the future.
"Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside" is an entertaining read from beginning to end. The book is a modern coming-of-age story about Daniel, a proud, idealistic young man teaching English in a small Chinese village. His antagonist is another English teacher at the small school, a selfish older man who has not invested the energy to learn much Chinese, or much about China, despite living there for several years. The clash of their personalities and the relentless attention of a goody-two-shoes student drive the plot forward. The book is full of colorful descriptions and vivid scenes of life as a young ex-pat. Carroll portrays most characters with sensitivity and nuance, although a handful of characters were one-dimensional. The writing style is conversational, and Carroll's natural dialogue really draws you in. At times it could be distracting, for example when the narrator uses slang or colloquial epithets, but these are minor complaints. Overall, I really enjoyed the book, especially the emotional climax near the end. Without spoiling anything, let me just say that one main character has a profound self-realization that complicates her/his understanding of his/her actions and intentions. That extended scene crackles with emotional intensity - don't miss it!
Up to the Mountains is a meaningful story that illuminates expat influences in modern, rural China, while dealing with the essential questions that plague humanity. Carroll's protagonist, a highly relatable and complex character named Daniel, is in search of his place in the world. Ultimately, through introspection and interactions with supporting characters, Daniel ascends the self-actualization pyramid to become a more mature and globally conscious individual.
In short, as a first effort, Up to the Mountains is superb. I believe Carroll could enhance his character development to add weight to the climax, but this nitpicking did not detract from my enjoyment in reading his text. Overall, Up to the Mountains is the type of book that makes you close your eyes after turning the last page in order to let its significance settle into your consciousness... It is the type of book that demands a second read.
While the story line was enjoyable, I never got into rhythm with the book. The pace of the book seemed a bit inconsistent, with great devotion given to certain days and then large (or even unknown) gaps of time seeming to pass. I also was disappointed that quotation marks were not used to clarify when a character was speaking aloud. It seemed as though the author had a clear beginning and end, and he developed the story well for awhile, but then suddenly the book (and school year) were over. To me, there was an additional bridge needed to get to the conclusion.
I appreciate that I may be a bit old fashioned in my approach to reading, and others should give the book their own evaluation.
A captivating story of two expats living and teaching in rural China. Daniel: young and idealistic, Thomas: Older, set in his ways, and almost always intoxicated. The friction created by their contrasting personalities makes for intense and engaging conflict throughout the novel. Carroll's vivid imagery of rural China provides the perfect backdrop for the incompatible Daniel and Thomas. The cultural challenges that both Americans face in rural China adds a layer of complexity that enriches the story and gives the reader a peek into Chinese culture--an added bonus for anyone who has never traveled there.
I read this book in two days--it will engage you from the opening chapter and will not let go. I'm looking forward to reading the next novel from Quincy Carroll.
Quincy Carroll’s mastery of evocative storytelling pulled me to rural China and made this a book I couldn’t stop reading. I became so involved with the intricately drawn characters that as their lives collided I couldn’t stop turning the pages to see what would happen next. The characters are complex like the naive, idealistic young Chinese student, Bella, who is calculating in her own way. There is also a complexity to the pace of the novel which unfolds in a calm, deliberate manner while leaving the reader anxious and in my case, fearful, that something horrible is about to happen. This is a beautifully written book by an author whose gaze sees every detail and who has created such intriguing characters that I didn’t want their stories to end. -Glenda Manzi
As someone with no background in teaching or experience traveling in Asia I was concerned that it might be difficult to really get invested in this story. I could not have been more wrong. Carroll's masterful development of complex and engrossing characters set against his vivid descriptions of the countryside made this book impossible for me to put down. I can't remember the last book that I have read so voraciously or that has transported me so completely to another world. Carroll's meticulous eye for detail and impressive ability to bring you into the heads of his multi-dimensional characters will serve him well in his works to come. A thoroughly enjoyable debut. He is definitely one to watch.
Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside: A Novel by Quincy Carroll focuses on Thomas and Daniel, two American teachers living in China. The book is a fascinating character study, and it also taught me about different aspects of Chinese culture. The writing seemed very realistic, as if the characters were people I might observe in real life. I like how the readers are able to see both Thomas and Daniel’s perspectives; because the two men are polar opposites, it creates an interesting dynamic. The characters themselves are not always likeable, but many of the struggles they face are relatable. The book made me think about issues such as idealism and self-identity; it is the kind of novel that encourages reflection and deep thinking.
Powerful debut novel that truly captures the experience of being a foreign teacher in rural China. The story, as told through the eyes of 2 very different characters: an idealist and a cynic, digs into a duality of raw human emotions that many foreign teachers experience but struggle to express. Like Quincy, I was a foreign teacher in rural China, and this book hit very close to home. I found myself reliving experiences and facing feelings that I'd buried deep down. But Quincy also threw in a number of unexpectedly funny moments that lifted me out and had me literally laughing out loud.
I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys expat writers like Maugham or Hemingway or more China-specific writers like Peter Hessler or Mark Salzman.
As someone who had worked and lived abroad, I found many parallels to my own experiences in this book. The contrast of a younger American's mindset with the realities of a rural developing country is personified in the two main characters in this novel. It does a great job developing these two characters, the young idealist and older realist, and through them exploring the many facets of this conflict as it plays out in rural China.
Carroll is clearly well read and in this book we see his early influences. The innocence of Daniel and his coming of age pulls from Salinger, while the more rustic Guillard drinking in foreign settings has a Hemingway feel to it. It will be interesting to see where this young author goes from this book. I know I will be eagerly awaiting his next work.
Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside is an absolute must-read for anyone who has ever even considered traveling abroad. This novel explores the perspectives of two American men living in the same small Chinese town for seemingly two very different reasons. Allow Carroll to guide you through Ningyuan, as his vivid writing makes you feel as if you are speeding through the hills on the back of Daniel's motorcycle or sampling your first taste of Bella's blood duck. A book guaranteed to make you think about your path in life (both the past and the future). Carroll is a talented young author whom we are sure to be hearing about for a long time to come!
This debut novel is a fresh piece of fiction to the English-language China literature. The story skips the China 101 lessons that many China books have, and its use of untranslated pinyin dialogue results in a target audience of China expats and former China expats. Anyone from this base will likely find familiarity with many of the characters and events. The book will read very differently to a non-China person but will serve as a fascinating and intriguing glimpse into a very specific and interesting life. Overall, I very much enjoyed the switching narration style and subtleties of the story structure that illustrates just why so many westerners like to live in China.
#UpMdownC is a great book about not only the nuances and surprises of being an ex-pat in China, but about the often volatile road to self-discovery, as well. Carroll, though his expressive and linguistically pictorial writing style, walks you through Daniel's experiences and thought processes, as he embarks upon a somewhat idealistic journey to Ningyuan, only to ultimately pieces of that which he had been looking to escape. It is well written, fulfilling, and, more than anything, a great rendition of the ex-pat experience that is often so difficult to properly capture.