Customer Review

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vision of a lost time and place, lyrical and evocative, May 26, 2012
This review is from: Peking Story: The Last Days of Old China (New York Review Books Classics) (Kindle Edition)
One of my favorite books of travel and memoir.

David Kidd marries into a family of Peking nobility, just as the Communists come to power in 1949. He captures the rarefied air of the upper class as their fortunes decline, a clueless, broke, effete elite sliding into the dustbin of history. Engaging, evocative, almost lyrical, his in-laws and their house are central characters in this book and wonderfully described.

If you are interested in Chinese history and culture, or how the society changed under the rule of the Communists, this is a rare account of the period. Or if you enjoy a portrait of a particular time and place now long vanished, this would be a good book for you to take a look at. The accoutrements of the literati become emblems of the estrangement from the people at large; at one point Kidd helps Elder Brother inventory the antiques in their living quarters ...

"We had to ferret everything out of drawers,
cabinets, and chests, and then we had to decide which pieces were
antiques and which weren't. As far as I was concerned, almost
everything in the rooms - including the hand-blown electric-light bulbs
under tasseled silk shades -- could have been safely listed."

One of the more cryptic items of the "valueless but delightful objects" they find is a miniature ivory shovel, "six inches long, inlaid with coral and turquoise. Use unknown." Kidd carries it in his pocket as a momento, occasionally puzzling over its purpose. When he finally finds that mundane intent, the decay of the family and its place in Chinese society is almost complete.

If you enjoy David Kidd's _Peking Story_, you may want to investigate _ The Years That Were Fat: The Last of Old China_ by George Kates. It's a little more difficult to find but Kates has a similar curiosity about Chinese society and customs and he writes about the pre-WWII period when there were more relics of the Imperial period around.
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