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)
"Dreaming in Chinese is chatty and colloquial, with helpful photographs and drawings, as well as a pronunciation guide. The eager student will learn a fair bit about the history of the language and how its array of characters and tones were systematized, all the while gathering insights into the country’s customs and culture. Rather than draw sweeping conclusions Fallows sticks to her own experiences and observations, which makes her book all the more valuable. China hands will have many moments of recognition. For others, Dreaming in Chinese will be a fascinating introduction to a foreign culture." (Lesley Downer, New York Times Book Review)
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.
It's a nice story, and a way to learn more about the Chinese language through Chinese culture.
The narrator has a nice, sentimental, warm tone in the book, but the Chinese was almost unrecognizable.
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.
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