Deborah Fallows has spent a lot of her life learning languages and traveling around the world. But nothing prepared her for the surprises of learning Mandarin - China's most common language - or the intensity of living in Shanghai and Beijing. Over time, she realized that her struggles and triumphs in studying learning the language of her adopted home provided small clues to deciphering behavior and habits of its people, and its culture's conundrums. As her skill with Mandarin increased, bits of the language - a word, a phrase, an oddity of grammar - became windows into understanding romance, humor, protocol, relationships, and the overflowing humanity of modern China.
Fallows learned, for example, that the abrupt, blunt way of speaking which Chinese people sometimes use isn't rudeness, but is, in fact a way to acknowledge and honor the closeness between two friends. She learned that English speakers' trouble with hearing or saying tones - the variations in inflection that can change a word's meaning - is matched by Chinese speakers' inability not to hear tones, or to even take a guess at understanding what might have been meant when foreigners misuse them.
Dreaming in Chinese is the story of what Deborah Fallows discovered about the Chinese language, and how that helped her make sense of what had at first seemed like the chaos and contradiction of everyday life in China.
©2010 Deborah Fallows (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
"You don't have to know Mandarin to be captivated by Deborah Fallows's Dreaming in Chinese.... Forget Berlitz - that just teaches words. Deborah Fallows shows us that the cultural implications of those words teach us about each other." (Sara Nelson, O: The Oprah Magazine)
"Fallows has a good ear for aspect, the way of stressing certain words and syllables to change or add layers of meaning to a simple word or phrase. She veers to the gentle, seeing the generosity behind brusque gestures, the intimacy and friendship behind rudeness and the priorities that language reveals. Playfulness, respect, affection and the virtues of solidarity with the common people - a different traveler might miss all these but not Fallows." (Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times)
“Narrator Catherine Byers deftly communicates the intricacies and particularities of the language. The accuracy of her Chinese pronunciation and her demonstrations of tones seem authentic, a factor that is important given what Fallows tells us about the difficulty of Chinese pronunciation and the travails she experienced as a result of her missteps in this regard.” (AudioFile)
I enjoyed the perspective on Chinese culture from someone who lived there and studied the language. It is probably more interesting for someone who has studied the language, even briefly as I did, than for someone who hasn't studied foreign languages, and particularly Mandarin.
I would absolutely recommend the book to anyone who has any interest in China or the Chinese language. It is a deeply insightful book, examining a complex and easily misunderstood culture.
It was extremely helpful to know that others have struggled as much as I have with Mandarin. And after reading so many China-bashing travelogues, it was lovely to read something from someone who seems to have a genuine affection for the people, the culture and the language. The chapter about the earthquake was genuinely moving, allowing Ms. Fallows' neighbors to emerge as truly, independently human.
I have only one real complaint. The narrator is perfectly competent -- the enunciates very clearly, and emotes very subtly, which works well for non-fiction. However, given the nature of the book, it is jarring that the narrator makes no effort to pronounce the Chinese phrases correctly. Or perhaps she has made a little effort,but doesn't recognize that even pronunciation in this language requires *great* effort. I'm not being nitpicky or snobbish -- it's not that her Chinese is heavily accented, but that it would be almost incomprehensible to a native speaker. I recognize that it would be difficult to find a reader who has studied any Mandarin. However, she reads the Chinese words as if they were English, which tends to nullify the point of getting this on audiobook rather than in print.
I enjoyed Deborah Fallows' thoughts but didn't agree with her conclusions, which seemed to me to be generalizations or viewing what was said through a Western lens. I was also disappointed that the narrator struggled to pronounce the Mandarin words. I've studied Chinese part time for four years, and her unclear tones and pronunciation made it hard to picture the words as she said them. I do appreciate her respect for her host culture and the complexity of the language.
The narrative was mildly interesting, in the sense that some of the author's stories of living in China resonated with my own experiences, but given the title, I was expecting more in-depth language analysis, which it entirely lacks. Plus, there's a fair bit that the author doesn't go on to explain and I imagine would confuse me if I didn't already know more about it. For instance, when she is talking about word play, and the "grass mud horse" she notes that is is a homonym for something else, but doesn't say what. I'll give you that it's really hard to indicate what it's a homonym for in polite language, but she didn't even try.
The real thing that made this book unlistenable (I admit to giving up about an hour and a half in) is that the narrator is a great English reader but clearly doesn't speak a word of Chinese, and no one gave her even a ten minute summary in pinyin phonetics. If I had been smart enough to read the reviews beforehand, I would have seen that. If you have any level of Chinese understanding, you will probably find this audiobook frustrating and grating. Otherwise, either give it a miss or try the print edition.
I thought this was a terrific book written in an enjoyable, upbeat and sometimes humorous manner by the author, Deborah Fallows.
As one who lives in China for most of the year, I can see firsthand what she shares with us, especially in regards to name selection, mate selection, social orders of the day, and so much more.
The author also does a great job in helping us to understand and even learn a few Chinese words along the way.
I highly recommend this book whether you’re planning on going to China or just want to learn a few more things about China.
Maybe. I enjoyed the book. I lived in China approximately the same time that Ms Fallows was there, and also studied Chinese. It was entertaining, and brought back memories of my time there.
As others have noted, the fact that the narrator doesn't speak Chinese was surprisingly annoying. Perhaps it's difficult to find bilingual person to narrate a book, but if there were ever a book that called for it, it's this one.
The story was good, again entertaining. It did leave me wanting more, perhaps bringing more of her scholarly background into the story, or more personal reflections. And, perhaps I'm an atypical reader, having spent about the same time as she did in China, and obtaining some level of proficiency in Chinese, and of course being curious about living in a foreign place. I often thought that it was a book that I could have written (and maybe I could have!)
Yes, but not if she needs foreign language knowledge. I think she was a good pick in the sense she sounds like I envision Ms Fallows.
Perhaps if Ms Fallows travels to another country, another book would be appropriate.
Given the subject matter, it's difficult to understand why someone who is entirely incapable of Chinese pronunciation was chosen to narrate this book.
Aside from the pronunciation of Chinese words, this book has had me laughing and relating to the author. I'll likely read the book, but can not recommend this audiobook, and am unsure whether I will be able to tolerate listening to it to completion :(
As a native English speaker and long-time resident of Shanghai who has spent alot of time trying to get to a point of being able to carry on a simple conversation in Mandarin, this book really hit home, articulting many of my experiences and provided insights l had not encountered before. Only criticism is her Chinese pronunciation was not very accomplished; but then realized it was not the author`s voice.
I really like this book about the author's firsthand account of living in China and her struggle in learning Chinese language. The book is informative and highly entertaining. The biggest and saddest issue with this audiobook is, as other reviewers have pointed out, toneless (or fourth tone only) Chinese pronunciation of the performer.
Author talks quite a lot about how tones change meaning of words in Chinese and tells funny incidents of miscommunication she had stemming from getting the tones wrong. But the performer's pronunciation can't convey any of that.
I'm just flummoxed as to why the performer who seems to know very little or nothing about Chinese language pronunciation was chosen to read a book full of Chinese language topics. If you are someone familiar with Chinese language or a Chinese learner seeking some linguistically rooted stimulation, I have to warn you that you are probably in for a disappointment.
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