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Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman
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Iron and Silk (1988)

by Mark Salzman

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» See also 90 mentions

English (21)  French (1)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
A China expat voiced a complaint that now with Peter Hessler's China trilogy there was nothing left to write about. ("How Peter Hessler Ruined My China Life" - http://blogs.princeton.edu/pia/personal/ttalhelm/2009/03/how_peter_hessler_ruine... ) Hessler actually responded publicly, saying when he was writing he had to be careful not to emulate Mark Salzman's experiences and themes too much. I thought River Town, Oracle Bones, and Country Driving were GREAT. I was excited to read this.

Overall it does end up sounding similar to Hessler, just with less understanding. I think when reading travel writing it is usually obvious how much time the author spent integrating themselves into the culture, Hessler clearly spent more time in China than Salzman. ( )
  mtdewrock | Dec 30, 2017 |
Funny. You would not expect a memoir about a cello playing martial arts master in China for the purpose of teaching English to medical students a funny book and yet it is. It is very funny and eye opening. Salzman's adventures are, truth be told, a string of essays laced with tongue-in-cheek wit and culture. You cannot help but laugh out loud at some of his exploits as he tries to make his way through Chinese bureaucracy and customs. Take for example, his attempt to receive a package containing medication for athlete's foot. It's so maddening you almost think he's making the whole thing up. But then you remember, in South Central China, there is a regulation for everything real or otherwise. ( )
1 vote SeriousGrace | Dec 13, 2017 |
Salzman gives an account of his character's travels through China, teaching and seeking better mastery of Chinese martial arts. ( )
  niquetteb | Aug 13, 2016 |
Salzman writes a compassionate and very humorous tale of his journey to China to English. Ostensibly an exploration of his mission to learn martial arts and calligraphy, it ends up being a study in how to keep our eyes open to enlightenment. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
From the back cover: The much-acclaimed adventures of a young martial arts master in China “take the form of a series of lightly sketched-in episodes; almost without exception, they produce the gulp of feeling you might get from an unusually fine short story, and they reverberate long after you have put them down.” (The New York Times)

My thoughts:
Salzman had been interested in China since the age of thirteen, when he’d first seen the television movie Kung Fu. He had studied kung fu, Chinese art and calligraphy. At Yale he majored in Chinese Literature. He wasn’t particularly interested in going to China, but he did need a job once he graduated and he was “fluent in Mandarin and nearly so in Cantonese,” so he applied for and was accepted by the Yale-China Association to teach English at Hunan Medical College in Changsha from August 1982 to July 1984. This is a memoir of his experiences while in China.

The book is told in a series of vignettes, and divided into sections. It begins with two episodes that bookend his tenure – arriving and leaving China. The rest of the memoir is roughly in chronological order (I think). Salzman is an astute observer and writes in a clear yet atmospheric way about his experiences. The various people he meets – professors, bureaucrats, fishermen, students – come to life as he describes their clothing, customs, habits, living conditions and demeanor. Much of the book focuses on his own efforts to expand his knowledge of martial arts, calligraphy and Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese and the local dialect). I was a little disappointed to not have more information about the classes he taught and the students he encountered, though there are a few scenes about those experiences.

The area of China Salzman lived in is still not often visited by Westerners. In the early 1980s few Chinese had themselves traveled beyond their own villages, let alone to other countries. Most of the people he encountered had never seen a Westerner before, and many were stunned to silence on first seeing him. I’ve visited China a few times; my husband was in international business and traveled more extensively in the country than I have. Reading this memoir gave me a glimpse of China that I do not know. It’s an interesting book, though I cannot help but wonder how accurate the portrayal is today, given the Chinese government’s efforts to modernize.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0394755111, Paperback)

In 1982, Salzman flew off to teach English in Changsha, China. He writes of bureaucrats, students and Cultural Revolution survivors, stripping none of their complexity and humanity. He's gentle with their idiocies, saving his sharpest barbs for himself (it's his pants that split from zipper to waist whilst demonstrating martial arts in Canton). Though dribs of history and drabs of classical lore seep through, this is mostly a personal tale, noted by the Los Angeles Times for "the charmingly unpretentious manner in which it penetrates a China inaccessible to other foreigners."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:15 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"The author tells of his two years teaching English to medical students in China's Hunan Province following his graduation from yale University in 1982. This book is 'not so much a treatise on modern Chinese mores as a series of telling vignettes....[The author] describes his encounter with Pan Qingfu, the country's foremost master of wushu, the traditional Chinese martial art.'" Time.… (more)

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