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Glass: Concert of the Sixth Sun
Glass: Concert of the Sixth Sun
Price: $20.02
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't quite work for me, December 28, 2013
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Philip Glass is to be commended for his numerous collaborations with musicians around the world. It's not an easy feat to pull off, especially with as powerful a musical personality as Glass's. The more he imposes his ideas on the music, the more it will sound like - Philip Glass. My favorite of this type of collaboration is his production with the Amazonian group Uakti, the shimmering Philip Glass : Aguas da Amazonia, which manages to sound both like Philip Glass and Amazonian music. Another brilliant album in this genre is Ry Cooder's collaboration with the Malian musician Ali Farka Toure in Talking Timbuktu. In "Concert of the Sixth Sun," Glass has chosen to stay in the woodwork and allow the indigenous Mexican Wixarika music to speak for itself, and it does so with a numbing insistence that just doesn't work for me. The music is mildly interesting but soon becomes threadbare and palls, and I wonder if another approach, or collaborator, might have better been able to bring out the heart or character of the music.


Visitors - Original Soundtrack
Visitors - Original Soundtrack
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Into the bad Glass shelf, December 28, 2013
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I have been a huge fan of Philip Glass since the early 80s, have seen him live in performance many times, and am buying up many releases on his label, Orange Mountain Music, for which we are eternally grateful. I am continuing to discover older gems for the first time like "Days and Nights in Rocinha" and "Persephone" From the Philip Glass Recording Archive, Vol. II: Orchestral Music and newer masterpieces like Glass: In the Penal Colony and Philip Glass : Les Enfants Terribles. But that doesn't mean everything including the kitchen sink should be released. I don't know what he was doing while writing "Visitors" (probably simultaneously working on six other scores), but it sounds like a bad parody of...Philip Glass. The music goes nowhere and lacks a single interesting passage. I'll try it out again a few more times in case I'm missing something, because I paid money for it, but I fear I'll have to consign it to my bad Philip Glass shelf, along with other uninspired creations such as 1000 Airplanes on the Roof or Philip Glass: Orion (both plentifully available in your local secondhand CD shop).
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 10, 2014 10:47 PM PDT


A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
Offered by Random House LLC
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fresh voice among Chinese-authored books in English, December 27, 2013
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If there was ever a story with an extreme cultural divide to navigate, it's this one. A young woman from the Chinese countryside is plopped down in London for a year on a study visa with little English ability or understanding of Western culture. Soon an Englishman she meets in a cinema seduces her and she moves in with him. He's not your typical British male (if there is such a thing) but an unpindownable bisexual eccentric and failed sculptor with leftist anti-establishment leanings and a Luddite distaste for the trappings of modern society. He's also twenty years older than her but handsome and fit enough for her to completely fall for him - her first significant relationship with a man. His general aloofness and conflicted attitude towards traditional monogamous relationships perplexes and tortures her, and she only makes things worse by overwhelming and smothering him with her love and attention. He avoids her and disappears for days at a time, leaving her abandoned and distraught in his flat. To cultivate her independence, he sends her off on a trip to the Continent alone for several months. Reluctant at first, she discovers she extracts much enjoyment out of her picaresque adventures (including spontaneous sex with strangers). These chapters become a turning point and centerpiece of this Bildungsroman novel, where naive rural girl emerges as a liberated female.

The book's masterstroke is its captivating style. The author made the risky but astute decision not simply to write it in English but to exploit her inevitably imperfect control of the language as a vehicle for depicting her personal transformation. The early chapters employ a delightfully entertaining broken English fashioned out of Chinese grammar: "I standing in most longly and slowly queue with all aliens waiting for visa checking. I feel little criminal but I doing nothing wrong so far." Or, "Even when I see a beggar sleeping in a sleep bag I am scared. Eyes wide open in darkness staring at me like angry cat. What he doing here? I am taught everybody in West has social security and medical insurance, so, why he needs begging?" By the later chapters, her English has improved considerably, and her expanding vocabulary reveals the correspondence between linguistic and real-world knowledge, the almost claustrophobic relationship between language and awareness, the recognition - captured in the book's title - that words are as important as money, food and shelter for surviving in an unfamiliar society.

The strength of the book, its effective fusing of linguistic texture and real-world experience, also constitutes its weakness. Just as the narrator is stuck in the narrow world of her little red Concise-Chinese English Dictionary (I carried around the very same dictionary in my early years in China) without which much around her would remain incomprehensible, she is also stuck in the fraught space between her marital expectations with this strange man and his enigmatic refusal to rescue her with a marriage visa and a happy ending. Many details of the narrative are too true to life, and I assume the novel is autobiographical. This is where Guo falters, as it's never clear where fiction and artistic objectivity fall off into personal grievance. We never learn the man's name; he is referred to throughout in the second person as "You." I'm not sure what Gao intended by this device, but to me it lends the book the quality of a long, desperate love letter, as if it had been written not for a readerly audience but him alone. The funny early chapters give way at the end to a humorless despair after the author's visa application is rejected and she is forced to return to China. Her evident failure to comprehend the significance of the previous year and achieve some kind of psychological closure leaves us hanging as well.


People's Pornography: Sex and Surveillance on the Chinese Internet
People's Pornography: Sex and Surveillance on the Chinese Internet
by Katrien Jacobs
Edition: Paperback
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Timely, in fact a bit too timely, August 12, 2013
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There are unfortunately and rather inexplicably all too few books on contemporary sexuality in mainland China. Richard Burger's recent Behind the Red Door: Sex in China comes to mind; I scratch my head to think of any others. And I can't think of any other topic so vital and pressing: the flashpoint of a huge burgeoning population freer than it has ever been in its entire history, at the precise moment it is simultaneously thrusting up against the outside world both virtually via the internet and in the flesh. Katrien Jacobs can be commended for confronting the topic head-on with sex-positive openmindedness; too bad the book was rushed to print with lousy, hasty editing.

The present era has converged with a number of technological breakthroughs resulting in an explosion of DIY ("do it yourself") pornography and personal sexual expression: affordable home video cameras, a proliferation of internet pornography, blogs and sexblogs, and social networking sites of all types from dating to countless x-rated pages for the kinky. The Chinese Government has tried to hold off this deluge by haphazardly effective online censorship but is facing a losing battle and has effectively resigned itself to accepting the lesser evil of sexual freedom of speech in favor of a more open and productive society. It could even be described as evolving its own brand of friendly fascism or "repressive desublimation" (Herbert Marcuse), where sexual freedom is exploited by the powers that be and channeled into useful forms of monetization and control proving far more effective in quieting a restless population than the obsessive sexual oppression of the traditional communist regime.

Any study of contemporary sexuality that fails to latch onto the exciting intersection of sex and technology as its starting point is quickly irrelevant, and thankfully Jacobs is right on the mark. She covers everything potentially germane to sex discourse in China since the turn of the millennium when internet caught fire on the mainland: the return of the made-in-China (post-Liberation) underground porn film industry, the explosion Chinese porn sites and their equally aggressive dismantling by the authorities, iconic sex propagandists and internet protest personalities including Mu Zimei, Li Yinhe, Han Han, and Ai Weiwei, internet sex scandals (e.g. Edison Chen) that occur with such regularity they seem factory-produced, and the ever-present influence of Japanese porn and idol stars and the pro-gay manga and Cosplay cultures. Jacobs even gets ethnographically creative by posting her nude body on an adult sex networking site to meet and interview subjects and delve into the mindsets of some of Hong Kong's more daring youth subcultures.

I wish I could say it was a gripping read, but I found myself slogging through much of the book, which is written in the relentlessly turgid academic style of a novice scholar, reading much like a dissertation. In fact I'd wager it was a dissertation, one that prematurely got a leg in a mainstream publisher and filled a gap and need for this kind of study. In Jacobs' better moments the PC-academicspeak attains a certain stodgy felicity, as when we are reminded of the appropriate definition of "Queer": "originally an umbrella term for non-heteronormative expressions of gender and desires, including LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexuals and transgender) and non-normative heterosexual people." Elsewhere, her prose is riddled with stylistic awkwardnesses and typos which would never have gotten past your typical dissertation committee (mine at least), along with certain nonnative-seeming turns of phrase, as her name hints. The lack of a good, astute editor is to blame for these lapses in what is otherwise a welcome publication.


Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China
Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China
Price: $9.99

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not unsavory enough, August 1, 2013
Even before this book came to press it was already in the thick of polemic and controversy - for all the wrong reasons. Some advance-copy reviews by feminist editors in the expat zines of Beijing and Shanghai have been withering, particularly of editor Tom Carter's own "exploitative" and "juvenile" contributing story on a brothel visit. It is actually one of the best pieces in the book, its tawdry, slapstick style perfectly suited to a group of clumsy foreigners haggling in the shabbier variety of Chinese brothel. It is the only story in the entire collection, in fact, that merits the book's title. Before I came to the book, I was expecting and hoping for just that, something unsavory, stories of a refreshingly seedy and disreputable nature, peeling back a new layer of reality in Chinese society as more and more foreign pioneers venture deeper into the country. Inevitably, someone would take it upon himself to dredge up a collection of lascivious or discomfiting encounters and slap it together as a book.

What we have here instead is, alas, a much more banal take on "unsavory elements": "the communist propaganda machine" use of the phrase (as Carter first recalled it) to describe anyone of questionable, less than revolutionary morals. Foreigners - formerly "foreign devils" - are by definition unsavory; their mere presence in the Middle Kingdom unsavory. It is not possible to be a foreigner in China and not simultaneously bumbling, gauche, vulgar and unsavory. Thus any random collection of non-fiction stories of foreign devils wandering around or working and living in China will do. The 28 contributors represent quite a spread, scattered about the country in pretty much all walks of life, but what cannot be said about them (with a few exceptions) is that they are unsavory. They are, on the contrary, painstakingly polite, respectful and normal. They are strenuously family-friendly; nine of the stories - those by Levy, Paul, Muller, Bratt, Arrington, Washburn, Solimine, Watts, and Conley - concern actual families and children or the teaching of children. The pieces are all good clean fun, worthy of inclusion in Reader's Digest or those bland, antiseptic Intensive/Extensive Reading textbooks for freshmen English majors in Chinese universities.

Inevitably, the collection is uneven. The pieces by Peter Hessler and Simon Winchester are the most assuredly written, though they don't really tell us anything we can't get from their own books about China. Meyer, Polly, Earnshaw, Spurrier, and Kitto are good, competent writers but fail to particularly stand out, unlike Watts' piece on the German botanist and eccentric Josef Margraf, and Fuchs on Tibetan muleteers, which benefit from their intriguing subject matter. Stevenson mars his intriguing subject matter of life in a Chinese prison with snideness (here I direct readers instead to the extraordinary book Prisoner 13498 by Robert H. Davies of his experience in Chinese prisons). Humes' horrific account of being violently mugged suffers from his gratuitous histrionics while recovering in the hospital; the tantalizing question and cliffhanger of how he was able to pay for the huge medical expenses (without any cash or insurance) is hinted at and then forgotten. Some pieces lack contextualization, like Eikenburg's account of her daring courtship with a Chinese male, but what decade is she referring to, exactly? Interracial relationships on the Mainland are far more ubiquitous and accepted now than two or three decades ago, when I imagine her relationship took place; a reader unfamiliar with China might wrongly assume things are as stringent and racist today as ever.

Personally, if I had been given the same anthology project with the same title and the same contributors to choose from, I would keep three. I would start the book off with Winchester's piece as a prologue (instead of its current slot as epilogue), then proceed with the spicy if rather innocuous account of KTV escorts among China's privileged by Susie Gordon, followed by Carter's aforementioned piece. For the succeeding stories, I would have to find alternative, more intrepid contributors willing to challenge bourgeois readerly expectations and really get down and rock 'n' roll in China's seamy, truly unsavory underside. After all, I would only be doing what China's own writers have already long been doing, like Wang Shuo, Jia Pingwa and Zhu Wen back in the 1980s depicting life among hoodlums and lumpen elements at large, or the graphic accounts of casual sex and drug use by Hong Ying, Wei Hui, Mian Mian and other female writers of the 1990s. Until that happens, pass on the word of Tom Carter's enticing new collection at the local bake sale or church group back home when queried on a latest wholesome introduction to China to curl up at the fireplace with.


Owsley and Me: My LSD Family
Owsley and Me: My LSD Family
by Tom Davis
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.49
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hippie morality tale, June 11, 2013
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I hesitated whether to buy this book or not, drawn to the larger-than-life personage of Augustus Owsley "Bear" Stanley III yet wary from customer reviews suggesting Rhoney Gissen-Stanley lacked writing ability. But I just had to get my hands on this incredible insider knowledge. The wild circumstances of their relationship is interesting enough. She and Melissa Cargill formed a decades-long threesome with Owsley Stanley, neither marrying him (Gissen adopted the "Stanley" surname for the sake of their child) but both becoming pregnant about the same time, Gissen by Stanley, Cargill by either Stanley or her other significant other, Jack Casady (bassist of Jefferson Airplane). Owsley Stanley died in a car crash in 2011, explaining the release of this book a year later: presumably she needed to tell this story but could only do so once free of his overwhelming presence.

Stanley was the major underground LSD chemist of the 1960s until his protégés Tim Scully and Nick Sand (of Orange Sunshine fame) took over after his bust in late 1967. With Cargill (herself a trained chemist) and later Gissen, the three of them produced two million hits of LSD. Stanley's Achilles heel was his outsized personality, love of notoriety and fame, his insistence on hanging out with the likes of Richard Alpert, Jerry Garcia, Ravi Shankar, Timothy Leary, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Ken Kesey, and Joni Mitchell, to mention a few of modest hippie fame. Stanley himself knew this and warned people he dealt with, "Do not expose my name to the world. Do not say 'Owsley said.' If you do not pay attention, this will be the last LSD you will see from me." Intelligence is a very uneven thing, and this brilliant man whose acid was said to be purer than Albert Hofmann's of Sandoz Laboratory (the "Owsley effect" refers to a process he invented) and polymath - he was acoustician/soundman for the Grateful Dead, an amateur ornithologist, a promoter of the Paleolithic or "Atkins diet" before Atkins, etc. - was rather stupid and careless in other respects. On the way to see Timothy Leary's famous enclave in rural New York, Stanley, Gissen and Cargill stop off to purchase an elaborate array of chemistry equipment and pack it all into the trunk. As they leave Millbrook at night a police car is lying in wait down the road for the hippies; they are caught high on acid, with a large supply of LSD on hand (including Stanley's eye-dropper vial of pure liquid LSD he always carried in his shirt pocket) and the alchemical beaker ware in the trunk for manufacturing more of it. Friends get them out on bail. Gissen later describes a rock concert backstage party with a bowl of punch inadvertently spiked with 4,000 hits of acid. Many overdose, including one of Janice Joplin's musicians, who has to be taken to the hospital; she is seen yelling at Stanley in what must have been quite a scene. Stanley's ninth life as an LSD chemist ends not long thereafter when they set up a new LSD lab in a conservative Bay Area suburb to try to throw off the heat. He bizarrely has each of his assistants drive there in different-colored Volkswagen Beetles, in full view of the undercover cops conspicuously parked down the street. They are in the process of pressing 100,000 tabs when the cops crash in.

While Gissen is not a professional writer and needed Tom Davis' editing help to polish the narrative, the book is not ghostwritten. By turns eloquent and incoherent, Gissen has a lot to say. Her extensive use of hallucinogens has organized her mind into interesting priorities, set down in psychedelic stream-of-consciousnessness. She has a knack for the telling detail. Stanley always went nude in the house, regardless of who was present, and she describes his habit of "moving his balls out of the way with his hand" when uncrossing his legs. The LSD-making process is described in fascinatingly minute detail. On the other hand, there are jarring ellipses and gaps of time compressed into a single sentence, as if mimicking the distortion of time experienced under LSD. After years of their tangled and anguished ménage à trois and after Stanley has emigrated to Australia for unexplained reasons, Gissen delivers this deadpan shocker: "When Owsley and Sheilah, his wife, came to New York City...I invited them to stay in my apartment." Nothing about who this Sheilah is, how Stanley met her and why he finally chose to marry her rather than the long-suffering Gissen or Cargill. Similarly, we learn nothing about Stanley's life before Gissen met him, how he became an LSD chemist and what shaped his extraordinary personality and ego - I suppose because other accounts have already been written and she wanted to focus on her firsthand knowledge. Still, although Gissen's is a partial, fragmentary and often scattered account, again quite like the LSD experience itself, it is no less memorable for that and is a highly enjoyable read.


I Love Dollars: And Other Stories of China
I Love Dollars: And Other Stories of China
by Wen Zhu
Edition: Paperback
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly sardonic Chinese realism, June 11, 2013
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Like Wang Shuo, Jia Pingwa, Liu Heng and other outcast authors born in the 1960s-70s who came of age in the 80s-90s, Zhu Wen maintains an uneasy, on-off relationship with his present milieu, having a great deal to say that few seem to want to read about. The Chinese audience for domestic fiction, perhaps unsurprisingly, is not much interested in realist or ironic descriptions of their society, in contemplating unflattering mirrors held up to them showing the dark side of their country's meteoric prosperity. Instead, as with most readers everywhere in our age of US cultural hegemony spearheaded by Hollywood, Disney and Apple, contemporary Chinese who read at all are more interested in fiction that appeals to their desires and longings, in escapist and fantasy writing, formulaic romances and mysteries, inspirational biographies, self-help books and get-rich-quick guides, in books that manage to combine all of these aspirations to some degree: the Harry Potter series, Dan Brown's tomes, or word-of-mouth bestsellers like Rhonda Byrne's The Secret (all widely popular in the Chinese). It's not that there is no potential readership for serious or "literary" fiction; it's just that few publishers have the financial incentive to venture into such dicey territory (sound familiar?), not to mention the toxic byways of political satire in China. The result is that the audience for Chinese realism and satire is largely relegated to the foreign readership in translation. It is also noteworthy that the title novella I Love Dollars and the five other stories in this collection were all published in the original almost two decades ago.

The packaging for the English readership is curious and (I feel) somewhat disingenuous, with the blurbs playing up the comic selling points ad nauseum: "an absorbing portrait of the go-go years in China...extravagantly funny"; a "hilarious send-up of China's love affair with capitalism"; "as penetrating as Kafka, as outrageously funny as Larry David, and with a slangy swagger all Zhu Wen's own"; "...would make anyone laugh...classic comic fiction of the highest order." I did not find the stories particularly funny; sad, poignant, and telling perhaps, or black humor at its grimmest, but not laughter-inducing. The narrator of the title story seeks a prostitute to entertain his father in his middle-aged lassitude and when that fails, asks a girlfriend if she would offer herself to him for generosity's sake (she angrily refuses). The narrator's girlfriend in "A Hospital Night" bullies him into standing watch until dawn in a hospital ward over her irascible father after his gallbladder operation, which involves repeatedly sticking the man's penis into a plastic bottle to enable him to urinate while repeatedly being fought off, in front of all the other staring patients in the room. The narrator of "A Boat Crossing" gets lodged in a ferry cabin with a rough trio of men bearing a dead body in a sack; it's unclear whether the cadaver is to be used for medical instruction or is really a murder victim. Meanwhile a woman tries to sell her 17-year old niece to him for $500, and that's not to have sex but really to sell her and convey the money back to the girl's destitute family. "Wheels" spins the street accident theme increasingly notorious in the Chinese press these days, as the narrator unknowingly "brushed against some old man's arm as I rode down the hill" on his bicycle, and his ignoring this slight makes for dour consequences.

I might add here that if a Western male expat writer were to attempt similar themes in the Chinese context, particularly those involving Chinese females, he would lambasted as highly sexist and irresponsible at best, or exaggerated and implausible at worst, though that's a conundrum of the English publishing world and is refreshingly irrelevant here. While I occasionally got bogged down in Zhu's narrow, relentless Beckett-like focus on gritty and sordid minutiae, elsewhere his technique is assured and I found the stories largely memorable and instructive in their own way, vividly conjuring up scenes and locales I would rather not personally have to encounter.


Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
by Susan Jane Gilman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $5.60
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another valuable window into 1980s China, June 10, 2013
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It doesn't seem like all that long ago, but China in the 1980s was only just creaking open its doors to foreign travelers for the first time since before the Revolution - initially to package tours and later in the decade to individuals. But if the Government was ready to receive foreigners and their hard currency and quickly slapped together expensive hotels for this purpose (where backpackers on a shoestring often had no choice but to room), most of the rest of the country was not. It was a forbidding place, necessarily so, with the largest population in the world living in a bleak wartime-style economy as a result of the catastrophic policies of a lunatic leader. To handle so many people under such extreme conditions, such a society was structured very differently from what we are accustomed to, with drastically curtailed lifestyle choices (the very term "lifestyle" would have been incomprehensible to the Chinese then). I sampled the tail end of this era on my first visit to the country in 1990 for an exhausting two-week, six-city tour. The place was fascinating in its sheer strangeness. China is a much more foreigner-friendly place these days, to be sure, but it has been a long time in coming.

Enter in 1986, among that first wave of independent foreigners allowed into China, two spoiled young American females fresh out of college, the author Jane Gilman and Claire, her friend and classmate from a wealthy family, neither previously having set foot outside of the US and embarking on what they thought would be a yearlong worldwide tour, beginning with an indefinite stay on the Chinese Mainland. After a brief stopover in Hong Kong, they last a respectable six weeks before they are spat out, the worldwide tour abruptly ended after Claire goes psychotic on Jane and has to be accompanied on the flight home by a registered nurse.

Things get off to a shaky start with Jane freaking out on their shaky airline preparing to land in Hong Kong (neither has much flying experience), and things only get worse amidst the squalor of their Chungking Mansion room when she threatens to head right back home and needs to be slapped into reality by Claire. I worried that the author's histrionics would prevent me from making it past the first ten pages. But it gradually becomes apparent that this is a clever foil framing the rest of the narrative, as we discover that it's Claire who has the major difficulties adjusting to their shockingly different reality. While the two are shunted around from one mysterious, disorienting location to another by shady locals who may or may not be trying to take advantage of them, dealing with hostile hotel staff with no English ability, unpalatable food and nothing to do, Claire grows increasingly paranoid of not just the Chinese but the CIA, Mossad and other nefarious agents she thinks are out to get her. She stops eating and becomes ill and delusional. By this time we are in the more hospitable surroundings of a Western hippie hangout in Guilin. Just as Claire meets and falls for a German traveler, Claire loses it and wades naked into a river in a suicide attempt. The tense final pages have Jane and the German frantically contacting the police to locate Claire. They find her and things are brought to a breathless and fraught conclusion.

Thus a word of warning. This is not a travelogue for uninitiated readers expecting a comprehensive or in-depth account of the PRC by a seasoned travel writer with extensive knowledge of China. It's a fast-paced and, perhaps appropriately, breezy description of a country experienced as a nightmare from the get-go - a country itself caught in the nightmare of its recent past. At times I wasn't sure if the melodrama and emotional hysterics, whether Jane's or Claire's, were contributing to or getting in the way of the book. Nevertheless, I did find myself being briskly pulled along the narrative as the girls lurch from one shock to the next. I have not yet read Gilman's more recent work, and I am curious to see whether she has been able to replicate her narrative skills in other contexts.


Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World
Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World
by Nick Schou
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.71
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mind-bender, May 7, 2013
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Imagine getting blasted on pot and putting Jimi Hendrix's "Band of Gypsies" on the stereo system. A few minutes later, Hendrix himself walks in with a six-pack of Miller High Life, saying "I don't like that album. It's imperfect." This is not fantasy but reality. It's the summer of 1970 on Maui, Hawaii, where Hendrix performed a free concert on the slopes of the Haleakala Volcano while being filmed, along with Les Potts (the lucky partaker of Hendrix's beer) and other Brotherhood of Eternal Love members for the music documentary, Jimi Hendrix - Rainbow Bridge. This scene doesn't begin to describe the incidents and events packed into this history of the early LSD-drenched days of the sixties in the LA area (with excursions to Hawaii and Afghanistan). Many books have been written about the sixties. This one concentrates specifically on the cast of bizarre characters who morphed from petty rebel-with-a-cause-type criminals running around looking for people to beat up, into peaceniks out to save the world by means of (literally) millions of doses of Orange Sunshine - reputed to be the finest acid ever produced on a mass scale.

Some of these events are so unbelievable as to scarcely be imagined and unlikely to ever occur again in any locale, like the 1970 "Christmas Happening" in Laguna Canyon, which attempted to outdo Woodstock by getting all 25,000 participants (150,000 were expected) high on acid after thousands of hits Orange Sunshine were dumped over the crowd by plane. The festival, with hordes of naked people, many freely having sex and many more extremely hungry due to nonexistent planning for food, was brutally broken up and cleared out a day later by the police. Then there was the very far-out smuggling operation employing a sailboat boat packed with high-grade marijuana that successfully made the journey from Mexico to Hawaii through high seas and storms - by a crew with little-to-no maritime experience and no navigation equipment except the stars

For all the wildness and insane schemes, this was an unprecedented era in modern times unlikely ever to be to repeated, when economic prosperity, an increasingly educated population, and the irrepressible American brand of creativity and individualism came together and flared for a few years before too many red lines were crossed and the Establishment came down hard. We have taken quite a detour since (Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes) but things may be picking up again with the groundswell of national support for marijuana legalization. The sixties is not over yet.

Nicholas Schou did a lot of digging and has succeeded in weaving a richly detailed yet economically told account. The major lacuna, to my mind, is with so much focus on the histrionics and spectacles, and the author's suppressing of his own point of view in the interest of journalistic objectivity, we seldom get into the actual heads of the main actors (John Griggs, Eddie Padilla, Johnny Gale, Timothy Leary, etc.). LSD was the prime mover of this history, yet one almost suspects Schou himself has never ingested any (I can't believe he hasn't), what with the utter absence of any sustained descriptions of the LSD experience that would help clarify for the uninitiated reader what animated these crazy people to live fascinating lives on the edge (here we miss our genius drug muse Terence McKenna, e.g. True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author's Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil's Paradise).


The Beijing of Possibilities: Stories
The Beijing of Possibilities: Stories
by Jonathan Tel
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.46
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3.0 out of 5 stars Touching ephemera, May 5, 2013
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I found my experience reading this slender volume of slenderly conceived stories like the old Etch A Sketch toy - each new creation erasing my memory of the previous one. Several do stand out for me as mildly imaginative achievements, e.g., "The Glamorous Heart of Cosmopolitan Beijing," in which a trio of pickpockets who work the Beijing buses are discovered by the foreign owner of the shopping bag they swipe and are chased by the police around an abandoned building as the thieves toss one colorful silk dress out into the air after another to distract the pursuers and lighten the load. The time-slip conceit of "The Unofficial History of the Embroidered Couch," in which a dating service mysteriously enables a man in contemporary Beijing to communicate with a Ming Dynasty princess by cellphone text message - here too come to life the imaginative "possibilities" promised by the title. The final, weightiest story, "The Most Beautiful Woman in China," is an intricately nested creation like a Russian doll or a Chinese box. An ancient tale of an Emperor's virgin wife given in sacrifice to the Huns is overlaid with a story of a promising Beijing violinist sent to Africa after refusing a bribe, which are in turn framed by the apparently real-life story of the Beijing poet Helan Xiao and her abusive treatment by the composer Tang Jiangnu who hired her to write the libretto of his opera titled after the story (and mirroring her own evident sex scandal mentioned in the author's preface). He is described as a "leading composer of his generation" residing primarily in the US since the 1980s whose aforementioned opera was commissioned by the Met in New York. The name and personal details appear to be fictionalized. The only actual person who fits this bill is Tan Dun, who is unanimously the leading composer of his generation and the only Chinese composer to have an opera commissioned by the Met. I don't know if the real Tan Dun is mixed up with any of this behind the scenes, but the ambiguities are further complicated by the interesting twist, again hinted at in the author's preface, that all the stories in the collection except for the final one were originally written by Helan Xiao and jointly translated by her and Jonathan Tell into English. If that's the case, then why isn't she listed as the author and Tell as the translator? Or am I missing the joke?

Despite these intriguing (or perplexing) puzzles, I found many of the stories to be ephemera. Part of the reason for this, I suggest, is the elements of magical realism which remove potentially three-dimensional experience from the concrete familiarities of the contemporary Chinese metropolis, leaving accumulated impressions floating disembodied in abstract space. Moreover, the overly sympathetic treatment of the characters, often the rural or disenfranchised living precarious existences in their adopted city, reduces them to predictable, stock types more than memorable people, and the stories more like simple tales. Finally, the third-person point of view throughout (keeping the author himself out of any trouble), the sentimental, light-hearted tone, the intimate domestic atmosphere all seem calculated to ensure safe territory and harmless consumption, precisely fulfilling the expectations of Chinese Government "soft-power" ideology, according to which the arts serve up a defanged, soothing pablum for foreign consumption.


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