Monday, July 28, 2008

Top 10 books on Beijing

Catherine Sampson, a crime novelist who lives in China, named her top 10 books on Beijing for the Guardian.

Her preface, and one book from the list:
"Beijing is about to become host to what will be one of the most fascinating Olympics ever. I first came to Beijing in 1981, more than a quarter of a century ago. It was a sleepy place, where you couldn't get a taxi and the streets were full of bicycles. Restaurants were staffed by snapping waitresses and closed at eight o'clock. Because of astounding economic growth and because of the Olympics, the city has been transformed - but with restrictions on visas, traffic and public gatherings, Beijing could look like the world's most over-built ghost town come August. Great swathes of old alleyway housing and street markets have been demolished to make way for some of the world's most audacious skyscrapers and stunning sports facilities. But the history of this city is one of sometimes murderous political struggles. These ten novels and collections of short stories are rich in satire, and in metaphors for political oppression. Most of the books below are written by Chinese writers who have chosen to live abroad in order to write freely about their country."
* * *
The Last Empress by Anchee Min

This is fictionalised history. Anchee Min has taken one of the most notorious women in Chinese history, the empress Dowager Cixi, and has turned her into a surprisingly accessible heroine. Drawn in by the first person narrative, the reader is taken into the heart of imperial life and witnesses first hand the life and death struggles between those who would open to the west and those who would turn China in on itself. It is a struggle that continues today in Zhongnanhai, the Communist party compound which occupies part of the old imperial palace. Anchee Min lives in California.
Read about the book that topped Sampson's list.

Read about Sampson's top 10 list of Asian crime fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue