Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book #17: China – The Year of the Shanghai Shark by Mo Zhi Hong

You hear a lot about structure and plot and the perfect way to do them, but a lot of the time books don’t conform to the rules. The Year of the Shanghai Shark is one of these – every chapter shows you an important person in the narrator’s life, and you come to know the character  indirectly through his friends. The narrative skips forward and back in time, and threads are dropped and caught up again throughout. You see things in snippets, building the story like a mosaic. And it works.

Hai Long lives with his uncle in Dalian, a port city in North East China. The book covers his life until about 2003 (I think), focusing mostly on the years leading up to SARS and Yao Ming’s NBA basketball debut (both important events in Hai Long’s life). I’ve never been to China, but the book makes you feel as if you have. You see daily life at micro scale, and follow the trials and triumphs of the characters.

If you like to have everything laid out in front of you to follow, then this probably isn’t the book for you. The novel is a bit like a puzzle, and I kind of want to go find Mo Zhi Hong and interrogate him about what exactly was happening in certain places.  Questions are left unanswered, but you gain a real insight into Hai Long’s life and the lives of the people around him. The diversity of China (and of people in general) is revealed in the careful layering of stories. Most of the time, you finish a book feeling you’ve met the main character and a few sub-characters. When you finish The Year of the Shanghai Shark, you’ll have met fifteen.

I really liked this book. And I think I’ve used too many metaphors in this review.

Give me some other books set in China! :-)

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