A light, fresh memoir of a Westerner teaching in China, with insightful observations that lead to a journey of self-discovery. After throwing herself into the chaotic, ever-foggy city of Chongqing to teach middle school for a whole year, Jane Carswell grapples with culture and technology, builds relationships among isolation, and sees the beauty and poverty of the world around her. She contrasts life in Chonqing to her home in New Zealand and begins to long for the country she left behind. Through a deconstruction of self, Carswell reveals her passions and anxieties, and explores her identity and place in the world. Patience and tolerance for China reward her with relationships and cultural insight. This book reminds me of Brian Johnston’s Boxing with Shadows, but is less dramatic travel writing and more a self reflection. As a person who has also lived in China for one year, I feel that I already know her story quite well, but feel that she is showing me something new about China. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who feels the urge to travel overseas.
Andrew Wrathall, Bookseller and Publisher October 2009
The Westerner’s spiritual journey to the East has become such a cliché that any author writing on the subject must tread carefully. Jane Carswell treads not only carefully, but thoughtfully and originally.
Lorien Kaye, The Age, Saturday December 26 2009
Carswell was a music teacher in New Zealand, settled into middle age, but restless. She was selected by a Christian school to teach English in China, despite being no evangelical. She took one Bible, for her own use. What she found in China was hard work, culture shock and a spiritual sea change. In the midst of an atheist, alien land, she turned away from the material, finding the space to write and reflect. The cult of the individual became less important. There are many travellers’ tales published, and equally stories of self-discovery. This book combines both in a very different way. It is unselfish, interesting even to non-believers.
Lucy Sussex, The Sunday Age, October 11 2009
At 56, Jane Carswell abandoned husband and family in New Zealand to spend a year teaching in China, inspired, she says, to find the secret path of an old man she once saw cycling in Beijing. She writes neat, sparse prose telling of her cultural adventure, of the impediments of Chinese bureaucracy and of the zeal, charm and discipline of the Chinese people. There is no high drama; Instead, it is pleasant observational minutiae – until the end when Carswell reveals that what she and the old man have in common was meditation and that being in China brought her home to Catholicism.
Samela Harris. SA Weekend, Adelaide Advertiser, November 21 2009
The author’s empathy with the people she meets, the fascinating insights into Chinese life she provides, her ability to take the reader with her on the personal and private journeys she makes, all contribute to a story well worth reading.
Patricia Thwaites, Otago Daily Times December 12 2009
This book was named Whilcoulls’ Travel Book of the Year for 2010 and it is one of the most wonderful books I have ever read.
Greg Hughson Touchstone magazine, July 2010