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review 2017-06-23 16:22
The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin (trans. Ken Liu)
The Three-Body Problem - Liu Cixin,Ken Liu

What would you do if the laws of physics, of the universe, turned out not to be laws at all? Imagine you're a scientist confronted with this realization. This is one of the more disturbing realities that characters must contend with in The Three-Body Problem, the first of a trilogy by Chinese author Liu Cixin.

 

The book does an excellent job of making the scale of the universe, from its immensity to its sub-atomic particularities, conceivable and real. One of the scientist characters has a gift that allows him to visualize numbers, and in a note the author reveals that he has a similar gift. The book is very intelligent and detailed in its explanation of science; I can't say I could follow it all, but I understood the larger picture and was fascinated by the minutiae.

 

The book begins in China's cultural revolution and fast forwards to the present, shifting perspectives from the scientist daughter of a persecuted university professor to a man working in nanotechnology. Most of the significant characters are scientists, with the exception of Da Shi, a corrupt, wily policeman who became my favorite character. The protagonist, Wang, learns of the deaths of prominent scientists and starts seeing strange things, such as a countdown that appears visible only to him. He is tasked with helping to investigate a shady scientific organization, which involves his playing a strange video game called Three-Body. Nothing is what it seems, and Wang falls down a rabbit hole (more like a black hole) that leads to knowledge of extra-terrestrial life.

 

This Chinese SF novel was something unique; I found its different style of storytelling often engaging, though sometimes odd. The translator explains in a note that there may be narrative techniques unfamiliar to Western readers, and I could sense them. For example, much is explained through pages of dialogue, and the narrative can feel interrupted by the video game chapters, as much as I enjoyed them. I struggled with the fact that, after a brief appearance earlier in the book, Wang's wife and child do not re-enter the narrative, not even Wang's thoughts. His thoughts themselves are often unknown--for a time I wasn't sure where he stood in the quiet war going on.

 

Nevertheless, I do look forward to reading the next book in the trilogy (after a break) and to seeing the movie adaptation.

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review 2017-06-22 19:47
Interesting if you are a fan.
The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook - Dann... The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook - Danny Bowien,Chris Ying

Can't remember what drove me to get this book but it sounded intriguing. I've never been to the Mission Chinese restaurants but I enjoy the stories of cooks, chefs, etc. and thought it might be a good read.

 

Part-cookbook, part biography, part interview with Danny Bowien, Chris Ying and some of the people they've worked with, etc. the book itself is trying to be too much of everything without being any one thing. I think I was under the impression it was more of a cookbook/biography of Mission Chinese itself (as in the restaurant but not necessarily the people behind it).

 

There are some really gorgeous pictures (the book itself also has a nice picture of a dish on the front cover) but I wouldn't be compelled to make any of the recipes since I am not the type to put in that effort and would trust the experts a lot more. I also wasn't all that interested in either of Danny or Chris (or anyone else's!) stories in the book. 

 

Based on Yelp reviews it seems to be they found some sort of way to make Americanized Chinese food/Americanized Asian fusion food, etc. into a "thing" which is odd because it's not a new concept.

 

As you can tell, I don't get the hype. Skip it unless you really like the concept or like cookbooks.

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review 2017-06-20 01:03
Academic but interesting group that does not get much coverage.
The Chinese in Mexico, 1882-1940 - Rober... The Chinese in Mexico, 1882-1940 - Robert Chao Romero

In light of immigration remaining a hot topic, I finally decided to purchase this book that talks about what it says on the tin: the Chinese in Mexico. A few years ago I read a couple of articles (on the Huffington Post and NPR I think) about the presence of Chinese people in Mexico and how that group came to be. I've heard of Chinese people coming to the US but what drew them to Mexico?

 

Turns out the immigration laws and the Chinese Exclusion Act in the US led to "collateral damage" of sorts, where Chinese people (mostly men) settled in Mexico instead. The book looks at how and why these Chinese immigrants came to Mexico, some intentionally, others because they could not get into the US. How they built businesses, how they managed movement between Mexico, the US and China, how they dealt with Sinophobia, how they integrated with the locals, etc.

 

Overall it was fascinating. A mostly unintended consequence (perhaps) of the US immigration laws led to the creation of this community that was interesting to learn about. It was also sad to see that the same experiences of immigrants happen to the Chinese there: some were resented for their business success, their children were considered not Mexican, eventually a group of them would be driven out of one part of Mexico. It's a story that we have seen happening before and it happens again.

 

 

I also wish the author had brought up the book to more "modern" times. As the cover says, it's from about 1882-1940. The book was published in 2011 so I was disappointed not to see more about present day or at least a little closer to it. He does have some thoughts on how to integrate discussing a group like these Chinese-Mexicans into college courses and so I hope there will be more work/articles about them.

 

That said, the book is dry. The topic kept me interested because I really wanted to learn more after reading those articles but this book would very much be a text for a college program. I wish I could have picked it up at the library or found it as a bargain buy but even the used versions that I could find were not all that much cheaper. But I wanted to know and so I'm glad I had a chance to read it. 

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review 2017-05-20 22:49
Interesting topic but not quite what I thought it was.
Southern Fried Rice: Life in a Chinese Laundry in the Deep South - John Jung

The story of the author's upbringing in the US South sounded like an intriguing one. Many stories of Asian/Asian Americans often concentrate in areas where there are larger populations: San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, etc. But some place like Macon, Georgia? That is not a perspective I've read or heard about very often. So I thought this would be an interesting book.

 

Author Jung tells us about his life and times in Macon: how his parents met, why they ended up in Macon, his childhood there and his experiences with the South, how they forged a living, how they eventually moved to San Francisco, etc. Initially it sounded quite interesting, but unfortunately I didn't quite realize what it was, which is his life story. I didn't know anything prior to reading the book and realize now this wasn't the book I wanted to read. 

 

While aspects of the book are interesting (how he and his family, as the only non white or black family in the area were treated better than black people but were definitely seen as not equal to white people), I really wasn't interested in his family and his life. It's a story that we've seen before but Jung unfortunately is also not the greatest writer either. I wanted to hear more about how many Chinese immigrants came to the US and ended up working in (for example) laundromats, how his family fit in (or not), more about what it was like to adjust moving from some place like Macon to San Francisco, California, etc. 

 

So this book wasn't quite what I was looking for. As a first person narrative it certainly seemed interesting and might be a good fit for someone looking for this type of story. But I'll definitely not be as eager to read his other books and will be looking to buy them used if I can't find them at the library.

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review 2017-03-07 15:35
My thirty-seventh podcast is up!
Britain's Imperial Retreat from China, 1900-1931 (Routledge Studies in the Modern History of Asia) - Phoebe Chow

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Phoebe Chow bout her new book about the beginnings of the British withdrawal form their empire in China (which I reviewed here). Enjoy!

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