In this coming-of-age memoir, short-story writer Pilar recalls the wide-eyed curiosity and naiveté of an young adult traveling abroad in China, looking for adventure, independence, and a sense of self. More than two decades ago at the age of 21 and following a romantic break-up, the author took planes, trains, and buses (“beat-up, rickety, shacks-on-wheels”) to burgeoning places such as Guangzhou, Yangshuo and Beijing. She fancied herself “Alice in Wonderland on a curious adventure,” but, to no surprise, the frenzied reality of the country unnerved her. The author weaves bits into the narrative about the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong, and the Red Guards, “30 million strong,” as well as the Great Leap Forward, offering insights from an outsider’s perspective. Pilar’s describes her disgust at seeing a “man cough up and spit out a rather large wad of yellowish-brown gunk,” not realizing until much later the effects of poor air quality on people’s health. In an outdoor market, she is horrified at the sight of live chickens, snakes, and turtles, seemingly unaware of the importance of fresh ingredients in traditional Chinese cooking. Readers can only hope the perpetuation of stereotypes represents the author’s youth. Photos. (Nov.)
Backpacking Solo in 1980’s China: A Conversation with Author Elizabeth Pilar
with Pink Pangea....
Pilar’s memoir of her trip through China as a 21-year-old is a look back at a very different country and a barely remembered manner of travel. In 1988, travelers could not use the web to check reviews on youth hostels and restaurants, sightseeing spots, or train schedules. Google Earth was not around to provide a close-up look at destinations, and no one was carrying a smartphone to make the journey easier. In 1988, Pilar hopped on a train from Hong Kong into China with no guidebook or language skills and no idea what was ahead of her. On her journey of self-discovery, Pilar learns about herself as she wanders through China, forming connections with trekkers from around the world and with the Chinese people she meets. Based on Pilar’s journal entries, the reconstructed conversations are creative and add life to her tale. One year before Tiananmen Square, China in 1988 is in the midst of change, and Pilar reflects the conflict of some of the people she encounters.
Verdict This title is a nice addition to women’s studies readings as it chronicles the kind of travel undertaken with a tattered map and the recommendations of students met on trains.—Library Journal