Author: J. Maarten Troost
Publisher: Broadway Books (division of Random House)
My Rating: 5/5 stars
Book Read 'Round the World and I am the first stop on the tour! Our group voted to read Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost, and I have to say, this was a fantastic pick for the event. I will be mailing the book to Carly at Writing from the Tub in England next, so check back in a few weeks for a link to her posts on the Book Read 'Round the World event HERE.
J. Maarten Troost decided to go to China because it was simply the place to be. The country is developing rapidly and is possibly the world's most exciting country to be right now. A well-traveled man, Troost did not expect to be such a fish out of water in this mysterious country, but from the moment he walked off the plane, he was thrust into a world that was foreign in every sense of the word. His initial impression of the country was only the prevalence of pollution and communism, but he forged on to learn about a country that saw him only as a laowai (Caucasian foreigner). He was limited by his inability to understand and read the language and relied on contacts he had made throughout the years to help him on his journey so there is never a time when he truly felt comfortable in his surroundings. His journey took him across the entire nation: from Beijing to Hong Kong and all the way up to Harbin, Troost wanted to experience it all, and in the end, he left China a changed man.
I have to say, I really enjoyed this book. China is such a dynamic nation that has become a world industrial leader. Sure the country has its problems. There is the looming cloud of pollution that sits over every city due to China's passion for coal and Communism envelops the country on many levels, but above that the country is changing so fast that if you blink your eyes you might miss something profound. Troost's writing about this change is quite insightful even as it seems to boggle his mind. As a Westerner, Troost definitely has some preconceived notions about the country and in a lot of ways his ideas are not without merit. The Cultural Revolution was not friendly to the history of the nation nor its people on a large level. However, as Troost meets and talks to other Westerners and locals, he finds out the true complexity of the country and the resilience of its people.
Harbin, China (ChinaHighlights.com)There are moments that challenged me as the reader--when I read a travel book I want the author to be open to the ideas of the place he's visiting. At times, Troost seemed rather negative about the experience but when I thought about it, I appreciated his honesty because there were some situations that were quite difficult to get through. I asked myself, "What would I do in the same situation?" and the result would most certainly not be handled with the humor with which he tended to handle himself. Many times there was nothing Troost and his companions could do but laugh or make comments tinged with a little sarcasm to each other. In the end, it didn't bother me because despite the cultural and language divide, Troost ultimately took a journey that seemed to have a profound impact on him. I like it when travel books accomplish this very thing, and I look forward to reading Troost's other books, The Sex Lives of Cannibals and Getting Stoned with Savages.
**Book Read 'Round the World Questions for Carly at Writing from the Tub**
(Others in the Lost on Planet China group are also welcome to answer these questions)
- How did you feel Troost represented Westerners? In particular, did you notice how he described people from the UK?
- What was your favorite place that Troost visited?
- What was the thing that surprised you most while reading the book?
- If you could ask J. Maarten Troost one question, what would it be?
Check out this video from J. Maarten Troost's travels to China