Review of Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road by Rob Schmitz

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About Street of Eternal Happiness

Modern Shanghai: a global city in the midst of a renaissance, where dreamers arrive each day to partake in a mad torrent of capital, ideas, and opportunity. Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz is one of them. He immerses himself in his neighborhood, forging deep relationships with ordinary people who see in the city’s sleek skyline a brighter future, and a chance to rewrite their destinies. There’s Zhao, whose path from factory floor to shopkeeper is sidetracked by her desperate measures to ensure a better future for her sons. Down the street lives Auntie Fu, a fervent capitalist forever trying to improve herself with religion and get-rich-quick schemes while keeping her skeptical husband at bay. Up a flight of stairs, musician and café owner CK sets up shop to attract young dreamers like himself, but learns he’s searching for something more. As Schmitz becomes more involved in their lives, he makes surprising discoveries which untangle the complexities of modern China: A mysterious box of letters that serve as a portal to a family’s – and country’s – dark past, and an abandoned neighborhood where fates have been violently altered by unchecked power and greed.

A tale of 21st century China, Street of Eternal Happiness profiles China’s distinct generations through multifaceted characters who illuminate an enlightening, humorous, and at times heartrending journey along the winding road to the Chinese Dream. Each story adds another layer of humanity and texture to modern China, a tapestry also woven with Schmitz’s insight as a foreign correspondent. The result is an intimate and surprising portrait that dispenses with the tired stereotypes of a country we think we know, immersing us instead in the vivid stories of the people who make up one of the world’s most captivating cities.

My Review

I loved the eclectic mix of people Schmitz introduced. We discover Shanghai and China’s history past and present with the future ambiguous.

Schmitz possess a casual yet sharp writing style sucking the reader into the lives of the people depicted. The various stories run from heartbreaking to inspiring. The colorful cast each has a very different view of their country and its history based on generation and political views. CK an entrepreneur determined to succeed, Zhao a smart businesswoman attempting to marry off her son, Auntie Fu caught up in a Ponzi scheme – all scratching and clawing in modern China. Nice comparison between US and China both in similarities and differences. Each person pursuing their dream and each dream is as different as each person. Shanghai offers much yet carving your path is quite a challenge. Fascinating and absorbing read.

About Rob SchmitzA1-GGWtjoEL._UX250_

Rob Schmitz is the China correspondent for American Public Media’s Marketplace, the largest business news program in the U.S. with more than 12 million listeners a week. He has reported on a range of topics illustrating China’s role in the global economy, including trade, politics, the environment, education, and labor. In 2012, Schmitz exposed fabrications in Mike Daisey’s account of Apple’s Chinese supply chain on This American Life, and his report headlined that show’s much-discussed “Retraction” episode. The work was a finalist for the 2012 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award. He has won two national Edward R. Murrow Awards and an award from the Education Writers Association for his reporting on China. Schmitz first arrived to the country in 1996 as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Sichuan province. His Marketplace stories can be heard at http://www.marketplace.org/people/rob-schmitz. This is his first book.

Expected publication: May 17th 2016 by Crown

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Review: The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight for Justice and Freedom in China by Chen Guangcheng

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A memoir of Chen Guangcheng the blind Chinese activist who inspired millions with the story of his fight for justice and his belief in the cause of freedom.

Chen Guangcheng is a man full of drive, determination, fighting for the basic human rights of others, he is quite an inspiration, an unsung hero. Undeterred by the consequences of his government or politicians he takes on hard-hitting issues – rights for the disabled, polluted water, forced sterilization and abortions.

Chen Guangcheng provides the reader with his challenging background, despite his blindness he finds a way to compensate and make use of his other gifts with steely determination and grit to fight for justice. Suffering prison for four torturous years for his activism accompanied by beatings, unimaginable conditions and general cruelty he survives. His mettle tested once again as he endures years of house arrest where he makes a heroic escape ready to continue his battle for justice to all.

An enthralling read from the first page. One man’s story of a successful fight for justice no matter the trials and tribulations faced proving your voice can make a huge difference in improving issues along with your quality of life.

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•Hardcover, 352 pages
•Published February 10th 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published October 15th 2013)
•ISBN13: 9780805098051

The Language of Threads by Gail Tsukiyama

imageNow we finally learn what happened to Pei, as she leaves the silk house for Hong Kong in the 1930s, arriving with a young orphan, Ji Shen, in her care. Her first job, in the home of a wealthy family, ends in disgrace, but soon Pei and Ji Shen find a new life in the home of Mrs. Finch, a British ex-patriate who welcomes them as the daughters she never had. Their idyllic life is interrupted, however, by war, and the Japanese occupation.

Pei, a character and a women you will not forget. Her life is full of joy and sorrow, her mettle endlessly tested and she gracefully rises to each challenge, stoically deals with each blow and humbly accepts the joys rarely surfacing in her heartbreaking world.

The narrative spans from the 1930’s thru 1970’s rich in historical content. The ending could not have been better. A perfect compliment to both character and narrative.

A wonderful story of facts unknown, historical moments described vividly. The silk factory and the lives of the workers is informative. Life in Hong Kong prior to the Japanese takeover well executed.

What will strike a positive cord with readers – the strength of the woman and women highlighted. Determination against insurmountable odds, undoubtedly inspiring leaving you impressed.

Published September 21st 2000 by St. Martin’s Griffin
Pages 288
ISBN13: 9780312267568

Recommendation: 3/5

Review: Peach Blossom Pavilion by Mingmei Yip

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Peach Blossom Pavilion
Mingmei Yip
Kensington June 1, 2008 
Pages 421
ISBN13: 9780758220141

GoodreadsAmazonIndieboundPowell’s Books

Recommendation: 2/5

From Goodreads:
When Precious Orchid’s father is falsely accused of a crime and found guilty, he is executed, leaving his family a legacy of dishonour. Her mother’s only option is to enter a Buddhist nunnery, so she gives her daughter over to the care of her sister in Shanghai.

At first, life at Peach Blossom Pavilion feels like a dream. Surrounded by exotic flowers, murmuring fountains, colourful fishponds, and bamboo groves, Precious Orchid sees herself thriving. She is schooled in music, literature, painting, calligraphy, and to her innocent surprise, the art of pleasuring men.

For the beautiful Pavilion hides its darker purpose as an elite house of prostitution. And even as she commands the devotion of China’s most powerful men, Precious Orchid never gives up on her dream to escape the Pavilion, be reunited with her mother, avenge her father’s death, and find true love. And as the richest, most celebrated Ming Ji or “prestigious courtesan” in all of China, she just might have her way even if it comes with a devastating price…

Sweeping in scope and stunning in its evocation of China, “Peach Blossom Pavilion” is a remarkable novel with an unforgettable heroine at the heart of its powerful story…

 

My Thoughts
The writing killed this story. The ‘prose’ extremely clunky with such a disjointed feeling. The language switches in such extremes – from sickening sweet misplaced poetic attempts, to extremely coarse language utterly out of place.

The narrative introduced scenarios completely implausible, almost as if trying to distract the reader from the poor writing. The narrative lacks refinement, and cultural respect. A ming ji is equivalent to a geisha but one would never know by this particular novel’s bawdy depiction. Riddled throughout the narrative excessive repetitiveness of words and phrases causing a disturbing distraction, not to mention annoying.

There is nothing seductive about this novel AND it is NOTHING close to Memoirs of a Geisha. Such a shame, the main protagonist Xiang Xiang was intriguing but her potential was extinguished almost from the beginning. Very disappointing.

 

Review: Last Words from Montmartre by Qiu Miaojin

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Last Words from Montmartre
Qiu Miaojin
NYRB Classics June 3, 2014
176 Pages
ISBN13: 9781590177259
A copy was provided in exchange for an honest review 

Goodreads AmazonIndiboundPowell’s Books

Recommendation: 4/5

From NYRB:
When the pioneering Taiwanese novelist Qiu Miaojin committed suicide in 1995 at age twenty-six, she left behind her unpublished masterpiece, Last Words from Montmartre. Unfolding through a series of letters written by an unnamed narrator, Last Words tells the story of a passionate relationship between two young women—their sexual awakening, their gradual breakup, and the devastating aftermath of their broken love.

 

My Thoughts
Qiu Miaojin’s literary style is cerebral, lyrical and profoundly intimate. Last Words from Montmartre is painful as well as beautiful as Qiu Miaojin reveals herself completely. An arresting read of layers of disclosure, love, reminiscence and myth, along with suicide notes, a tribute to her vulnerability and passionate heart, soul and mind. Predicative, eerily truthful.

After reading this acutely intimate writing, I asked myself how I would feel if letters were discovered and shared upon my demise. Feeling intrusive and yet privileged at gaining privy to Qiu Miaojin’s last thoughts, her words leave the reader haunted and cause great provocation. Incredible, ground breaking writer with unlimited potential leaving her legacy for those who recognized her talent and those who have yet to discover this maverick author with direct and bold prose.

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