Synopses & Reviews
An irreverent tale of an American Jew serving in the Peace Corps in rural China, which reveals the absurdities, joys, and pathos of a traditional society in flux
In September of 2005, the Peace Corps sent Michael Levy to teach English in the heart of China's heartland. His hosts in the city of Guiyang found additional uses for him: resident expert on Judaism, romantic adviser, and provincial basketball star, to name a few. His account of overcoming vast cultural differences to befriend his students and fellow teachers is by turns poignant and laugh-out-loud funny.
While reveling in the peculiarities of life in China's interior, the author also discovered that the "other billion" (people living far from the coastal cities covered by the American media) have a complex relationship with both their own traditions and the rapid changes of modernization. Lagging behind in China's economic boom, they experience the darker side of "capitalism with Chinese characteristics," daily facing the schizophrenia of conflicting ideologies.
Kosher Chinese is an illuminating account of the lives of the residents of Guiyang, particularly the young people who will soon control the fate of the world.
"In this lively memoir of serving in the Peace Corps in Guiyang, China, Levy explores a society in flux while mining the entertaining if familiar terrain of cross-cultural misunderstandings. He struggles to explain English terminology to students who unknowingly translate their names into expletives, is coerced into eating the specialty at Dog Meat King, and finds that the community distrusts him not merely because he is American, but because he is Jewish. But Levy turns his perceived otherness to his advantage, earning the nickname 'Friendship Jew' and being tapped to lead a student organization, the Guizhou University Jewish Friday Night English and Cooking Corner Club, a rare extracurricular activity in a culture Levy finds devoid of such opportunities. 'There were no glee clubs, school newspapers, yearbooks... expressions of creativity were mere distractions, as was critical thinking.' Pop culture references abound: Sex and the City, Star Wars, The Matrix are all name checked as if to suggest that Levy is grasping for familiarity in a foreign land, but their ubiquity becomes tiresome. Humor works best when Levy uses them to point to matters of deeper significance, such as the Westernization of China. As one of the local teachers encapsulates it, 'Wal-Mart is the future, and Chairman Mao is the past.' Interested readers would do well to check out Peter Hessler's Peace Corps memoir, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
About the Author
Michael Levy is an educator, writer, and traveler, who currently teaches in Brooklyn, New York, at Saint Ann's School. Levy returns frequently to Guiyang to check in on his students and visit the basketball courts where he momentarily attained stardom. While in the United States, he keeps strictly kosher. While in China, he eats anything with four legs except the table.