New York, NY, United States | Member Since 2009
A few years ago, I lived in Beijing for 4 months with my Chinese American husband. Having studied a little Chinese myself, and having experienced a bit of the life of an ex-pat woman in China, I was drawn to this book because I have rarely read about a similar topic.
I liked this book on a lot of levels, but there were also things that could have been better. First, the good: It is a simply marvelous depiction of modern China and the cultural clashes between old and new, East and West, that continue to play themselves out, even more than ten years since the book was written. The author obviously knows a LOT about China. In addition, the fact that the narrator had flawless Mandarin tones made the listening experience so very satisfying too, as I was able to pick up words here and there. I always like love stories, especially cross-cultural ones, and the love story here did not fail to please. It was satisfying, too, that the main characters were not perfect individuals but were both very damaged in their own ways. One of the final scenes, in which Lin confronts Alice about her many love affairs with Chinese men, is a searing indictment of the America sexual fetish for Asians, but with a gender bender: the person who chases after Chinese lovers is a woman, not a man.
I am only giving this book 4 stars because I felt that some parts of the plot were unrealistic or far-fetched and some of the characters (Spencer, especially), were underdeveloped. But as this is primarily a sketch of place, not of character, I'd still recommend the book for anyone who wants to learn more about modern China and the place of Wai Guo Ren (foreigners) in the Middle Kingdom.
The narrator of "The Indian Clerk" is a reserved, gay mathematician (G. Hardy, a historical figure) from a middle-class background who, despite belonging to one of the most elite intellectual societies of his day, always feel a bit out-of-place in pre-WWI Cambridge. With a fellow mathematician, he manages to bring an obscure Indian mathematical genius, Ramanujan, to study and work at Cambridge. The book is a nostalgic account of an imagine relationship between the two men, one English, one Indian, who are united by their love of mathematics and divided by their cultural differences. A superb depiction of the pre-WWI and WWI era (one of my favorites to read about), as well as a bittersweet tale of a man's love for another.
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