A journalist travels throughout mainland China and Taiwan in search of his family's hidden treasure and comes to understand his ancestry as he never has before.
In 1938, when the Japanese arrived in Huan Hsu's great-great-grandfather Liu's Yangtze River hometown of Xingang, Liu was forced to bury his valuables, including a vast collection of prized antique porcelain, and undertake a decades-long trek that would splinter the family over thousands of miles. Many years and upheavals later, Hsu, raised in Salt Lake City and armed only with curiosity, moves to China to work in his uncle's semiconductor chip business. Once there a conversation with his grandmother, his last living link to dynastic China, ignites a desire to learn more about not only his lost ancestral heirlooms but also porcelain itself. Mastering the language enough to venture into the countryside, Hsu sets out to separate the layers of fact and fiction that have obscured both China and his heritage and finally complete his family’s long march back home.
Melding memoir, travelogue, and social and political history, The Porcelain Thief offers an intimate and unforgettable way to understand the complicated events that have defined China over the past 200 years and provides a revealing, lively perspective on contemporary Chinese society from the point of view of a Chinese American coming to terms with his hyphenated identity.
©2015 Huan Hsu (P)2015 Random House Audio
"[Hsu's] persistence in the face of numerous obstacles is beyond admirable.... He offers plenty of intriguing information about Chinese history and culture, from wild Shanghai traffic to family dynamics. Some first-rate detective work." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Huan Hsu takes us on an intriguing journey into his family's and China's tumultuous past. The Porcelain Thief provides a great, intimate view into how modern China really works." (Frank Langfitt, NPR Correspondent, Shanghai)
"Huan Hsu's return to his ancestral Chinese village in search of buried treasure keeps readers turning the pages, eager to see what he finds. The dig turns up more than ancient family valuables, as Hsu meets distant relatives and learns of the turmoil that they endured and that he, as an American-born Chinese, avoided. Part memoir, part journey, and part archaeological expedition, The Porcelain Thief is as suspenseful as any Indiana Jones adventure." (Michael Meyer, author of The Last Days of Old Beijing and In Manchuria)
Hsu 's narrative is well written. An interesting weave of his search for his heritage, a quick history of China, and a tutorial on Chinese porcelain. Hsu storytelling skills are amazing. I began the book wanting to know the resolution, and as I continued, Hsu drew me into the journey. The resolution became unimportant. I'm a mystery story buff, so not needing the resolution means Hsu did a great job communicating his experience. I also learned much about the Chinese culture. I recommend this book as a great cross of history and personal story.
Literary non-fiction is a difficult genre to pull off but Huan Hsu has done a masterful job of weaving together the immensely complex histories of his family, himself, Imperial porcelain and China. An absolutely compelling book. And now I'm going to listen to it again.
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