October 06, 2011

Iron & Silk by Mark Salzman

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 comedic stories of his teachers and the lessons he learns from them. To a lesser extent, he also takes the time to learn Chinese Calligraphy from several teachers as well. Whats refreshing about his take on this is that he doesn't do it just to learn form, he also learns the meaning of these practices as well.

Some of his stories are about the Chinese people where he is staying. Not knowing these people I can't say for sure, but they seemed incredibly accurate and while most are portrayed as very kindly and generous, he doesn't hesitate to tell their faults as well. He does this with China as well but its not really taken as him putting down the society, but rather realizing that their practices are different.

The writing is easy and clear to read. He injects quite a bit of humor so it was truly very enjoyable to listen to his stories. Its a small book and can be read fairly quickly and I do find fault that it isn't longer. That could just be me wishing for more detail though and more stories. Considering the time the book encompasses is about two years, it just seems like there could have been more to write about.

I do have to say my favorite "character" in the whole book was Teacher Wei. She had been instructing the author in Chinese language in formality, but really was giving him lessons in Chinese culture and practices. She was such a wonderful person to read about and I really loved how he described her in this book. To me it seemed that she truly cared about him and wanted to make his stay there the best it could be.

I've read other books on visiting China but I do have to say that this is my favorite one by far. He doesn't condescendingly describe the people or place but instead shows the real China, good and bad but in a fair way. I can't wait to read more of his books!

Iron & Silk
Copyright 1986
211 pages

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