Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Book You want to Savor

Do you ever buy a book that you are so looking forward to reading that you put off reading it?  It seems like the perfect book with the perfect cover and you are sure that all the answers you need for whatever questions are haunting you will be found in the covers of this book.  OR you know the story will be exactly what you need and will leave your heart beating fast, and so you read the book as slowly as you can? All you want to do is savor the book so you put off picking it up and reading it?

And so it is with my latest purchase from  an English translation of a Chinese book by radio reporter Xinran called Message from an Unknown Chinese mother.  

These days I am interested in China and in books that I might share and send to my friend Catherine in China, and in looking for stories from China I stumbled across this collection of stories and interviews that help to explain why so many girls are abandoned in China from the point of view of a Chinese journalist who is now living and writing in the UK.

Xue Xinran's radio program involved the host telling stories of Chinese people she met and interviewed over the course of her day to day travels.  She eventually turned those stories into a book called The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices.   Western women who had adopted girls from China began to write her and asking her to tell the stories of Chinese women who had abandoned or given up their daughters.  Xinran wrote this volume in response to those requests.

I think what was most surprising about this book was that it was not simply a story of 10 women who Xinran interviewed, it was really a loose journalistic account of Chinese adoption policy and the history of orphanages and the cultural norms that lead families to preferring boys over girls in China.

Parts of it were painful to read.  Girls and women in some places in China are treated quite literally like garbage.  Other parts were enlightening. Xinran, as a good journalist does, tried to uncover some of the government's secrets about orphanages and explain why adoptions slowed down so drastically in 2006 or why they refused to acknowledge adoptions were happening until 1993.

Xinran interviews orphanage workers and adoption officials and several mothers who she meets who give up their babies. She also tells a few painful stories of her own of things she has witnessed through the years.

Although the translation felt awkward at points, this was a book I definitely savored.  The end of the book includes several appendices about Chinese adoption law and family planning law that were quite interesting. She also includes the letters from the adoptive moms asking her to write this book.

 I do not think I can send it to Catherine as I have noted that Xinran is on the Chinese government's list of banned authors.  It is easy to see why.

So now which books do you read slowly?

PS All Xinran's books are available at the MCPL or the Herman B Wells library at IUB.


Anonymous said...

This looks wonderful! Somday Tessa may enjoy savoring this book, too.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I want to read this one too! MKP

Steph said...

Wow - it's going on my list after that review!