I don’t write many book reviews on this blog–which is surprising, given that I’m always reading–but I picked up this book on Thursday night and had it finished by Saturday morning because it was just that engaging. The writing itself is nothing spectacular. It’s basically a spoiled Westerner’s memoir of backpacking through China with her casual acquaintance from college in 1986; a time when the country had been open to independent backpackers for “all of ten minutes.” There’s no fancy prose or deep, insightful cultural revelations, but I found the blunt honesty rather refreshing. There were a couple of scenes that I wouldn’t have blamed the author for leaving out because they paint her in a very unflattering light, so kudos to her for staying truthful.
As can be inferred from my above description, this is more of a guilty pleasure read than anything else, but I think it’s definitely worth a look if you’re even slightly interested in China or travelling or simply a funny memoir. I don’t want to give too much away, but the second half of the book takes a startling turn involving mental illness and running from the Chinese authorities. But the author doesn’t let that “small” setback discourage her from continuing her plans to circle the world. After dropping her friend off in America and spending a few weeks recovering from a bronchial infection, she sets off again to meet a near stranger in Hong Kong and travel on to Bali, India, Thailand, and wherever else they fancy. I don’t envy her for all the crap she went through in China, but I envy her for having the guts (and the monetary gift from grandma) to just take off for a year and travel to her heart’s content. Someday…..