Book Review Runs Dry

by Rachel Baker on May 19, 2014

Below is a pretty scathing review of Running through Beijing by Xu Zechen and Translated by Eric Abrahamsen. In the review, there are allusions made that makes one believe maybe there’s more than meets the eye, but unless one is well-versed in chinese literature, this book is crap. And…maybe the book is crap. Who knows.

I believe, though, any book that has a translator risks a bad review by American readers with little understanding of the culture described by the author. In essence, maybe the author of the review has a post doctorate degree in Chinese literature (and really, I don’t know if she does or not) and knows a crappy book based in China and written by a Chinese author; and maybe she doesn’t. The problem with this book review is there’s no real reflection at all – there’s not even a mention of the probability that this book is a statement about the shitty existence one lives after they’ve been released from prison.

How can anyone decide whether to read this book or not, if there’s no analysis or insight provided about a culture that Americans know little about? This review comes up short in providing any thoughtful analysis.

As someone who actually does like Chinese literature that doesn’t focus on the romantic notions and the historical relevance of the culture, I am incredibly disappointed by this review. Not because the book sucked for the reader/reviewer – but because there’s not enough to help me determine if the book is worth my time or not.

American readers are probably more familiar with Chinese literature via novels that focus through a romantic or historical lens; Xu Zechen’s Running Through Beijing is apparently meant as a kind of antidote, intended to give readers a glimpse of gritty contemporary Chinese life. In some ways, it succeeds, as it follows twentysomething Dunhuang’s release from prison (for selling fake IDs) into a new illegal career (selling pirated DVDs). Dunhuang is neither homeless nor settled, happy to live with whomever he’s sleeping with, or to rent a shared dorm room or a cheap shack. His Beijing is filled with students and police and other illegal entrepreneurs, everybody looking out for themselves.

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