Lost on Planet China - J. Maarten Troost

Book: Lost on Planet China
Author: J. Maarten Troost
Publisher: Broadway Books (division of Random House)
382 pages
My Rating: 5/5 stars

It is the start of 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)

  1. How did you feel Troost represented Westerners? In particular, did you notice how he described people from the UK? 
  2. What was your favorite place that Troost visited?
  3. What was the thing that surprised you most while reading the book? 
  4. 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


Anonymous said...

O wow, those other two titles by Troost sound really offending, but maybe they're meant to poke fun at such ideas? I certainly hope so.

The book sounds interesting and I'm very excited that this is the start of the Book Read Around The World event!

Carin B. said...

I think they are. I will say that at the beginning of the book I was thinking, "Oh no. This is like Bill Bryson and his book about small-town America, The Lost Continent." Bryson's snark basically came across as America sucks and why did I take this trip (at least to me it did). Troost really did change on his journey and while things like the toilet video still happened (and his feelings on Communism which I think were pretty well explained), I think he really came to feel fortunate that he took the trip. I like how he changed throughout the book. He's a good writer too.

Rikki said...

Ah, the first review is up! I like it, too.
Sounds like an interesting book to read. The other two titles did sound a bit too "funny", but to me actually more like Dave Barry than Bill Bryson (I happen to like his books, but have not read the one about the US).

Carin B. said...

@Rikki - Thanks! It was really interesting! The cool thing was that he mentions meeting people from pretty much all the countries that are participating in this event so I think it will be a good discussion book. I tried to be really general in my review so that I wouldn't spoil the book for all the others reading it. I think this book was quite humorous but also tinged with the discomfort of being in a communist country (which I think added to some of his negativity--understandable when he describes why he is uncomfortable).

I didn't ultimately find his negativity or humor offensive because I think he had a profound respect for the Chinese and China at the end. It is an imperfect country, but it also has a lot of greatness which I thought he conveyed. That's why I want to read Troost's other books. Bill Bryson on The Lost Continent however, I just wanted to burn when I finished it. He just came off as ignorant and douchey to me in that book. It probably didn't help that I had a used copy and he kept talking about how America basically sucked and lacked history while England was so fantastic--and he kept using British spelling (like favourite instead of favorite)--I realized after I read the book that I was reading a UK copy of the book and not the American printing. LOL! So, that may have "coloured" my opinion of the book some--that and he was insulting about my hometown which really made me angry.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a good book. I have in fact been wondering how I would manage if I ever ended up in a country like China or Japan, that is so different to my own culture and I wouldn't even be able to read the signs or the menus.

I'm looking forward to the book!

Carin S. said...

I read The Sex Lives of Cannibals, and it's funny, although not as hilarious as the title implies. I have China at home and I'm glad you really liked it. (I have to track down the second book.)

Carin B. said...

@Other Carin - hehehe..that never gets old to me. Have you read Getting Stoned with Savages? I want to read that one too. I think Lost on Planet China had funny moments for sure, but was also very thoughtful which I loved. Oh also, because of you, I am going to give Bill Bryson another try (from reading your review of one of his books). I shouldn't just judge based on one book since so many people like him.

Carin B. said...

@leeswammes - Oh I am so bad! I didn't answer your comment because we talk so often on Twitter! I am actually really wondering what you will think of the book! I can't wait for you to read it. I liked that you just said to put you in whatever group because I thought you were going to ask to be in The Enchanted April group! So you proved me wrong and I love it!

Carin S. said...

If you like travel books, I lately have really gotten into Tony Horwitz (PLUS you learn a ton about history.) Just finished my 2nd of his and the 3rd (although I'm reading them in reverse order) is on my TBR pile. I don't have Savages yet, but I'm sure it'll get added to the pile once I try China!

Carin B. said...

@Other Carin - I will have to look him up! I am starting to really like reading travel books. You'll have to let me know what you think of Lost on Planet China when you read it. Off to go look up some Tony Horwitz.

melinda dell said...

I have a 15 page research paper do on this book and how it discusses culture, language and communication. I have the audiobook but I cannot seem to really catch on. CAn someone help assist me? my deadline is approaching. Thanks in advance.

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