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Iron and Silk

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  3,113 ratings  ·  226 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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3.95  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,113 ratings  ·  226 reviews

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mark monday
Oct 21, 2010 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 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 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,
Oct 13, 2010 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 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
Jun 09, 2011 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
Jun 13, 2015 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 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: saturdaymx
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
Jul 24, 2009 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 rated it it was ok
Shelves: east-asia, i-own
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 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
Kaethe Douglas
Jul 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I really like Salzman, ever since The Laughing Sutra, which I think no one but me ever read. He's kind of a goofball, so his travel memoir is very generous toward others, and somewhat self-mocking. He amuses me and seems like someone you'd enjoy hanging out with, because, in fine obsessive form, he's done some really cool things in his life, just because he wanted to.
Oct 16, 2007 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.
Christy Joy
Apr 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Reading this after Peter Hessler's "RiverTown" made an interesting contrast. In many ways "Iron and Silk" is an easier read: there's less description and the narrative anecdotes are shorter and more punchy. It's also hilarious at parts: I laughed out loud at his matter of fact description of the ridiculous situations he finds himself in. Salzman also learns different forms of WuShu (martial arts) from a variety of teachers and his descriptions of his training are fascinating, and offer a window ...more
Michael W.
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An autobiography about a twenty two year old and his two years in the People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.) He was learning Wu-zhu. The Chinese martial art. The portraits of the Chinese he meets are clear and crisp. He was frustrated with the P.R.C. bureaucracy and China’s misperceptions of the West. Still, he showed great affection for most of the individuals he described. He appreciated their struggles dealing with the rigid systems of the P.R.C. and the difficulties of daily life there. The mar ...more
Courtney (courtney & books)
Something about this book rubbed me the wrong way. It was a quick little book, and I found it interesting. But I've never been really into memoirs. And, for me, it's just odd reading about a white guy who is slightly criticizing and appropriating another culture ( although I'm sure I'm just as guilty as he is in doing so). This book also has a lot more telling of events then showing; the episodes also don't seem to be linear but rather similar events are grouped together, which I found weird. I ...more
Sarah Rigg
Nov 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
This memoir of an American teaching English in China in the 80s is probably what he's best known for, but I actually read two of his other books first - "True Notebooks," which is about him teaching creative writing to juvenile inmates, and "Lying Awake" a novel about a nun who questions whether she is truly divinely inspired when she finds out her "visions" may be the result of a brain tumor. I really liked this memoir a lot. It doesn't have a strong narrative arc and is more a collection of sh ...more
Dec 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Some amusing anecdotes from a guy who taught English and learned martial arts in China in the 80s.

I didn't have any major issue with this book specifically, but since it's the second book in a row I've read on the theme of "white people explain foreign countries" I need to switch genres for a while...
Audrey Malachowsky
May 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Enjoyed this fast read. Snapshot of the experience teaching English in China over thirty years ago, from the perspective of a passionate marshal arts student. Loved his immersion into the culture, rather than observing from a distance.
Sep 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The storytelling was probably closer to a 4 than a 5 for me, as it did get somewhat tedious and repetitive by the end...but the unique look at Chinese culture during that time period made up for it. Really fascinating.
Erik Surber
Apr 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a great essay about a med student with a passion for martial arts living and working in China. I loved learning about the modern-ish Chinese culture and all the great martial arts the author had been fortunate enough to experience.
Mar 06, 2018 rated it liked it
The author writes about the two years he spent in China teaching English at a university. We meet students, bureaucrats, peasants, intellectuals, and specialists in martial arts.
Jan 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good look into a bit of life in China. Worth a read.
Dominique Cufi
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: romans
Je ne sais pas si c'est un roman ou un l'ai lu d'une traite comme on fait un joli rêve
Jan 26, 2011 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 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 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
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
The author spent time in China teaching English in the later 1980s. He seemed to be fairly fluent in Chinese (although I could not tell if he learned the language while there or before he went). The book is not a single story, but a series of essays on various aspects of his time China - told more or less chronologically. I enjoyed the story of his learning about Chinese society and how he learned to cope with and even accept many aspects that are very different from our own. If he seems intoler ...more
Andy De Llano
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
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What's the Name o...: Movie help! American goes to China, learns Wushu 51 525 Mar 14, 2016 06:40PM  
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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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