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Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China's Other Billion Paperback – July 5, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
In this lively memoir of serving in the Peace Corps in Guiyang, China, Levy explores a society in flux—while mining the entertaining if familiar terrain of cross-cultural misunderstandings. He struggles to explain English terminology to students who unknowingly translate their names into expletives, is coerced into eating the specialty at Dog Meat King, and finds that the community distrusts him not merely because he is American, but because he is Jewish. But Levy turns his perceived otherness to his advantage, earning the nickname "Friendship Jew" and being tapped to lead a student organization, the Guizhou University Jewish Friday Night English and Cooking Corner Club, a rare extracurricular activity in a culture Levy finds devoid of such opportunities. "There were no glee clubs, school newspapers, yearbooks... expressions of creativity were mere distractions, as was critical thinking." Pop culture references abound: Sex and the City, Star Wars, The Matrix are all name checked as if to suggest that Levy is grasping for familiarity in a foreign land, but their ubiquity becomes tiresome. Humor works best when Levy uses them to point to matters of deeper significance, such as the Westernization of China. As one of the local teachers encapsulates it, "Wal-Mart is the future, and Chairman Mao is the past." Interested readers would do well to check out Peter Hessler's Peace Corps memoir, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. (July)
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“A funny and informative account of life in Guizhou province, deep in the heart of China. As a Peace Corps volunteer, Michael Levy came to know and love a part of the country that few visitors see, a world away from Beijing and Shanghai.” ―Peter Hessler, author of River Town and Oracle Bones
“As a Peace Corps volunteer, Michael Levy taught for two years in a corner of China overlooked by tourists and correspondents. Kosher Chinese is a heartfelt, engaging memoir that captures at once the poignancy and humor of daily life in the new China. Levy's narrative balances his own acclimation to China with his students' acclimation to university life, and independence. This is what it feels like to be immersed behind the headlines--for Levy, it came to feel like home.” ―Michael Meyer, author of The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed
“Michael Levy is the tour guide to the real China we all long for. Funny, insightful, full of warmth and wit, Kosher Chinese brims with interesting characters and scenes, and it marks the debut of a fresh new voice in American writing.” ―Bruce Feiler, author of Walking the Bible and The Council of Dads
“With intelligence and zesty good humor, Levy tells the story of his sojourn as an ESL teacher in Guiyang… A rollicking, thoroughly refreshing debut.” ―Kirkus
“As in Peter Hessler's River Town…and Peter J. Vernezze's Socrates in Sichuan…, Peace Corps experience is the inspiration for Levy's cheekier and freewheeling but insightful adventure story.” ―Library Journal
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Top customer reviews
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Levy's book is gently written with self-deprecating good humor. The affection that grew for his Chinese students and friends over the two years that he taught is sensitively portrayed.
Anyone would enjoy and benefit from reading this account of Peace Corp work in a provincial Chinese city. It makes sense of Chinese thoughts and customs that otherwise are baffling to the average Westerner.
Readers, this is not a cookbook and that sushi is a yarmulka of an Orthodox Jew with a picture of Mao on it, the black seaweed wrapping actually Michael Levy's hair. This narrative of a 29 year old ESL/literature teacher's two years in China as a Peace Corps volunteer has plenty about eating, the alimentary canal, food and cuisine. These are incidental, compared to what else "Kosher Chinese" covers. The book is more concerned with friendships, the fiddler-on-the-roof quality of respecting an ancient, complex culture while "representing" the United States, and the dilemnas facing many us, wherever we live, when our reach exceeds our grasp however good our intentions.
Levy is a fine writer and a man who goes with the flow. For example, his colleagues at the University in Guiyang initiate a Friday Shabbos, 'with Chinese characteristics.' In search of cheese for a pizza to be served by popular demand, Mike and his Chene colleague Jennifer pass through a meat market that leaves him queasy:
"We listened to music until my stomach was completely settled and then entered the restaurant supply store. Towards the back, tucked into a corner, was a freezer. Inside the freezer were bricks of long-frozen cheese. I pulled out a two-foot long, twenty-five pound bag of frozen parmesan, feeling like Oliver Twist. It would be enough cheese for a year. "Now you can cook us pizza for Shabbat!" Jennifer was twitching with excitement...." (p.92).
"Kosher Chinese" could be in itself, almost, a validation of relevance of the Peace Corps in the spinning political-economic globe of today. Even more, it is a reminder that way down deep,as well as close to the surface, the world has many caring, compassionate people who with humor, determination, and skill are themselves the bridges we need built----while having themselves & giving to others one heckuva memorable experience, composed of moments---like the picnic with the Wang sisters and the final basketball game---great and small.
Any reader alerts? Remember this is a narrative story, not an analytic tale. It is produced as a basic book. There is no index, no maps, no heavy-weight paper, no photographs----and no recipes. For those, readers would need to select from among the five Chinese Kosher cookbooks liberally available through Amazon.
Highly recommended for a page-turning read that nourishes mind and spirit. Write on, Mike Levy, and may the force be with you!
If her time is anything similar to the author, she's in for quite an adventure.
I won't ruin the book by divulging details but it is a combination of honesty, humor, pathos, insight and irony.
We are more alike than we are different but the differences are striking.
An easy, highly recommended read!