Monday, March 31, 2014

The Train to Lo Wu : Jess Row

The Train to Lo Wu
By Jess Row

I got through the first two stories and simply could not finish.

The stories are all based in Hong Kong.  The jacket blurb says that Row spent two years teaching English in Hong Kong, I suspect to convince readers that Row's insights into Hong Kong are "authentic."

But in the end, Row just cannot put aside his inherent biases to understand Hong Kong well and its differences in culture, pace and history from that of the US. 

For example, in the first story, I noticed that all native Hong Kong characters speak in broken English and yet, the Caucasian character (ha, a teacher!) speaks perfect Chinese.  Not only does this reaffirm certain stereotypes of Asians (hooray!), the poor language does nothing to further convey the personality or the emotional state of the Hong Kong characters.  Yes, the Caucasian character is a teacher, but I think Row misses the chance to address the inherent problem of bilingual communication: how it's tremendously difficult, no matter how advanced you are in a non-native language, to express subtleties.

Secondly, it's always frustrating when people associate Asian cultures with mysticism.  That you travel to a less modern culture and that its people are in touch with the arcane and mysterious.  One, it's a well-trodden trope with historically racist overtones that any decent author should avoid.  And two, for Row to have stayed in Hong Kong for two years and still use, it's plain lazy.

Not putrid, but on my actively non-recommended list.

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