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Beijing Bastard: Into the Wilds of a…

Beijing Bastard: Into the Wilds of a Changing China

by Val Wang

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I received a free copy of Beijing Bastard through Goodreads First Reads.

Initial Review:
Beijing Bastard is just not a good match for me. It was not at all like I thought it would be after reading the description. Reading it was almost painful. After struggling through the first part, I took my time before picking this book up again. (Jumping back and forth in time and going off on tangents is best done in moderation.) But, I was determined to give it a fair chance and a decent review--one that came from having read the whole book.

I couldn't help finding some parts very offensive. But, I assume that's what Wang was going for--especially after describing herself as some sort of rebellious youth which, unfortunately, came across as very clichéd. Her story feels like a bunches of unnecessarily detailed descriptions of the commonplace without really saying much (like her attempts at onomatopoeia which seem randomly placed and painfully mismatched with their sources). Things like this give the impression that Wang is trying hard to make an uninteresting story seem interesting.

Amidst many ramblings, Wang compares the new and old eras of China a number of times, but I'm not sure which she prefers or if she even has an opinion. She talks about missing the old courtyard houses and being disappointed when they're destroyed to make way for new buildings, and enjoying the documentary about the old men and their slow life, among other things. She even expresses some interest in traditional Chinese Opera. Yet, she doesn't really seem to connect with the elderly Chinese she meets or knows, or China's former culture. It's almost as if her regard for old China is superficial, like nostalgia over some glossy version of history that you don't really connect with.

So far, I feel like this book would improve tremendously if Wang would trim the unnecessary "fat".

Final review:
...Well, the second half of the book was much better than the first half. It was more along the lines of what I expected after reading the book's description. Less back and forth, sudden leaps in time (and over and over again), and better story telling. (Basically, I could follow Wang's story, her experiences and thoughts, a lot better and could relate to her more.) Too bad the first half isn't more like the second. If it had been, I'd probably have rated it with three out of five stars (maybe 3.5 to 4 out of 5 if it was more PG-13...maybe). ( )
  Trisarey | Aug 7, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I must admit I struggled to finish this. The story, about the author moving to China after college in 1998 and staying for four or five years, seemed overlong and failed to attract my interest. As a character in the book observed, Val seemed to just drift into China and drift through her journalism career. Throughout the book she has this dream of becoming a documentary filmmaker, a dream that never came to fruition, as she just gave up on the idea when she came across a problem.

You might say that both Val and Beijing -- which was undergoing a massive urban development project towards the end of the book -- were both experiencing growing pains. But not every coming of age story needs to be written, and I think unless you're super obsessed with China and Beijing in particular, this book just doesn't have a lot to offer. ( )
  meggyweg | Jul 24, 2017 |
A not particularly involving book. Ms. Wang's story is that of one searching for her identity, as a woman, and as one torn between her identity as a modern, educated, liberated woman, and one confused as to what her Chinese heritage actually means. The portraits she paints of the people she meets in China aren't very interesting as the author fails to link their stories to the larger changes the country is experiencing. Perhaps it's unfair to expect her individual character sketches to coalesce into something more meaningful. Absent that, her book just becomes pedestrian quality writing in search of a theme. ( )
1 vote jcy500 | Aug 4, 2015 |
An interesting change from the other books *about* China that I've been reading. This isn't about China, it's about going to China -- or it's about going to the place you're supposedly from,and what happens. Pretty funny.
  revliz | Jul 20, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Author Val Wang’s parents fled China in the late 1940’s to escape the Cultural Revolution.

Val grew up with stories of China as she grew up in the United States. During a rebellious stage during her college years, her imagination was captivated by an independent Chinese film called Beijing Bastard. To her parents' dismay, she decided to move to China to experience the country for herself.

This was the Beijing of 1998; westerners were not common (although children of Chinese immigrants often came to China for a year to experience the culture). Val stayed for several years, working as a journalist and freelancer. She witnessed some of China’s underground art scene, met the director of Beijing Bastard and attended transitory underground art shows (human body parts from morgues as art? Really?) Eventually she also worked in translating several documentary films as well as filming one of her own about a family of Peking opera performers – a vanishing art form.

During her several years stay there, she witnessed many changes as old gave way to modernity. Beijing worked to display a modern face as it made a bid for and then readied itself to host the 2008 Olympics. Traditional courtyard houses, including her family’s own ancestral home, were torn down and replaced with modern apartments. Entire neighborhoods were demolished.

The descriptions of Beijing life are the star. Did you know that as part of its Olympic bid, Beijing staged 10,000 children jumping rope in Tiananmen Square? Nothing else I've read has truly driven home the size of Tiananmen Square like that detail.

If you are curious about life in a Chinese city, you may enjoy this book. I appreciated what I learned about Beijing and Chinese culture. Nevertheless the details of a fairly ordinary life are a bit like viewing someone’s vacation photos. They can be very interesting, but after a while you tire of the snapshots. ( )
  streamsong | Feb 12, 2015 |
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