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Frontiers of Heaven: A Journey to the End of…
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Frontiers of Heaven: A Journey to the End of China

by Stanley Stewart

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What do I read after finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? I didn't pick up another book for a few days after finishing. I came across Frontiers of Heaven in, of all places, a gift shop on the south side of Olympic National Park. Why there was a book about travelling in China there I don't know...but it looked interesting.

Stanley Stewart seems like a professional traveler and storyteller. I enjoyed this book because I felt like I was being read a bedtime story about the wonders of lands far, far away. He begins his journey in Shanghai. He begins his journey mesmerized by the public tai chi exercise, and watching an old man dance with an invisible partner. He meets the old man, who is the first of interesting individuals he talks with in this book.

He seems to have a real yen for chatting up complete strangers. He speaks with people about how life has changed in China: for instance, Shanghai was downright cosmopolitain in the 1920's. The old man dancing was quite the debonair chap in those days. Communism, the Great Leap Forward, the recent years in which China has opened up to the rest of the world...we get to hear about it all through Stewart's conversations. It was very interesting to hear about how people in the eastern provinces of China viewed land "beyond the mouth" (beyond the Great Wall). Going there was akin to going to the moon. Being sent to live there (such as during Mao's time) was akin to exile to Siberia.

I love travel books, and I enjoyed this one quite a bit. There was travel, good descriptions, history, conversation, everything. I'd definitely recommend it if one was looking for loiterature* about China.

* "Self-deprecating and wry, Stewart is a gifted amateur in the classic tradition of Patrick Leigh Fermor; indeed, he seems to have no particular objective other than to observe and enjoy. This is not travel with a purpose; it is pure gratification, a fine addition to what is sometimes called 'loiterature.' "--New York Times Book Review ( )
  anterastilis | Feb 24, 2009 |
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