Friday, September 24, 2010

China Underground

I didn't finish China Underground by Zachary Mexico. I read six of the book's sixteen chapters/vignettes. It's been the only book in recent months that I haven't finished.

In those first six chapters, I read profiles of gangsters in Qingdao blowing ketamine and partying hard with corrupt police officers, prostitutes working at a KTV parlor, and a virtuosic Uyghur guitar player trying to make it in Shanghai (who Mexico smokes hash with).

Now that I'm writing this post, those stories sound pretty cool (except for the prostitute profile which is a played-out topic for me at this point having already read similar accounts in China Road and Factory Girls). The reviews I've read of China Underground - both on Amazon and the internet at large - have been overwhelmingly positive as well. Despite thinking that I should like China Underground, this book didn't do it for me.

I appreciate Mexico's language skills and ability to document a segment of China's population that has been largely elusive to western writers. But I just found China Underground too over-the-top. The stories seemed superficial and the characters didn't resonate with me. I didn't feel as though I gained perspective or learned anything particularly noteworthy from the sections that I read.

I concede that my inability to get into the book may very well derive from me being too big of a square at this point in my life.


Ramesh said...

Your reviews are so spot on that I shall not buy this book !! But your last line set me thinking. Is relating to a book something to do with what you are at that point in time ?? Would you still be fascinated or repelled by a book in a different context ?? I wonder if I would relate to books on China after my China sojourn is only a distant memory. Mmmmmmmmm

PS - Just finished The Party by McGregor. Every bit as fascinating as what you mentioned in the review. Perhaps you should think of reviewing as a profession.

Mark said...

I'm glad you enjoyed "The Party," Ramesh. Definitely a book that's stayed with me.

I was being a little bit facetious with that last line. I did mean something by it though.

A book like "China Underground" - one highlighting counter-culture, drug abuse, promiscuity, etc. - is something I probably would've found more exciting a few years ago. I don't find such things that interesting at this point in my life.

I suppose I've always had problems with "counter-culture" books though, even when I was younger and more free-spirited. I didn't really appreciate "On the Road" by Keroac. I didn't like "Catcher in the Rye" by Salinger. And I hated "Naked Lunch" by William S. Borroughs.

I'm not a straight-edge person. I've had plenty of experience with not-so-savory people and things. But when it comes to books, I'm a bit of a nerd.