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The Train to Lo Wu Paperback – January 31, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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The Underground Railroad
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"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

No one quite understands anyone else in Row's Hong Kong, a city suffused by a pervasive sense of alienation. In the seven stories of this debut collection, Row's protagonists—American expats and locals alike—flail about, either helplessly or harmfully, as blind as Alice in the first story, "The Secrets of Bats," who wanders around in a blindfold, trying to gain a bat's sense of orientation. The narrator of the title story, a wealthy man from Hong Kong, falls in love with a Chinese woman named Lin. Political strictures make their situation difficult, but cultural differences ultimately divide them. The narrator (whose family has lived in Hong Kong for five generations) is optimistic and resourceful; Lin (crushed all her life by the Chinese system) cannot abandon her pessimism. In "For You," the marriage of an American couple disintegrates after they move to Hong Kong, and the husband, Lewis, temporarily joins a Buddhist monastery—just one example of the way personal breakdowns tend to follow political displacement in Row's stories. At the monastery, Lewis is told: "Mistakes are your mirror.... They reflect your mind. Don't try to slip away from them." In sharp, lucid prose, Row molds a landscape of human error and uncertainty, territory well-aligned with the eerie topography of his space-age city.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Debuting author Row makes new the archetypal theme of a stranger in a strange land in his seven tales of outsiders struggling to decode the mysteries of Hong Kong. In crystalline prose, Whiting Award winner Row animates intriguing and unpredictable characters and dramatizes subtle yet emblematic conflicts as he traces the vast cultural divides between America and Hong Kong, and cosmopolitan Hong Kong and locked-down mainland China. A young American man teaching English in a Chinese girls' school is baffled and seduced by a 16-year-old's potentially dangerous obsession with echolocation in the exquisite "The Secrets of Bats." In "The American Girl," a blind Chinese masseur puts up with the bossy insensitivity of an American graduate student who forces him to recall the brutal violence his family faced during the Cultural Revolution. In the title story, a well-off Hong Kong man becomes involved with a woman from Shenzhen whose life is cruelly proscribed. As Row choreographs thorny negotiations between naive newcomers and guarded insiders, he neatly and devastatingly contrasts dueling visions of faith, art, love, and freedom. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback; Reprint edition (January 31, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385337906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385337908
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,411,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lydia on June 30, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I don't think anyone who reads the Bats story will ever forget it. Jess Row's evocative abilities are magical, and I would so love to see more from him.

The stories are all set in Asia, but to say that makes it sound like only people with an interest in Asia will enjoy them. I have no more interest in Asia than in any other part of the world, but I devoured these stories for their ability to create vivid characters, while at the same time not making them utterly knowable.

Then I passed the book off to my husband. He and I rarely agree on books, though we keep trying to share them. This was just as much a hit with him, and we agreed that it is a real page-turner, even while it leaves much unknowable.
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Format: Paperback
I almost gave up on this collection after reading the first two stories. I knew from the dust jacket that all the stories were set in Hong Kong, and two of the central characters in those stories - a 16-year-old girl and an 80-year-old masseuse -- have limited English skills, so their dialogue with the Americans they encounter is written in broken English. Those stories are both very powerful, but I wasn't sure if I could stand 200 pages of what, even in the hands of a writer as skillful as Row sounds like Charlie Chan movie dialogue. Fortunately, for me anyway, the first 2 stories are the only ones with those character-imposed dialogue constraints. It really is quite a powerful collection. All the topics you'd expect from stories in this setting are covered -- Zen Buddhism, the long-lasting and devastating impact of the Cultural Revolution, and the odd historical and political relationship between Hong Kong and China. But all of the stories took me places I'd never been before. Row offers wonderful descriptions of the city, and all of his characters have an incredible amount of integrity, as they struggle with their attempt to cope with their traumatic personal histories or the difficulty of making long-lasting personal connections.

The 7 stories in the collection are:

1. The Secrets of Bats - 21 pp - An English teacher in Hong Kong tries to understand a project undertaken by a 16-year-old student whose mother committed suicide. The girl walks around with a headband over her eyes, trying to see and navigate her world the way bats do, without the benefit of sight. There is a Chinese superstition that the ghosts of suicides wander the world, so the girl may be trying to "see" her mother.

2.
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Format: Hardcover
I've read and re-read several stories in this collection several times - standouts include: "Train to Lo Wu", "Heaven Lake", and "Secret of Bats". Not only are these stories completely original, and moreso, completely convincing in their delivery, but they are also very easy to read - enough so that I have recommended this book to many who don't often read short stories, and they have all loved it very much. I really can't say enough nice things about these stories - clearly this collection is one of the standouts of the last few years, and is gaining popularity among readers. Some have remarked how there's not enough about Hong Kong here - they've missed the point, I'm sorry to say. Regardless of class, race or gender, these stories deal with subjects to which we all can relate - isolation, compassion, mistrust, love - and each story in this collection resonates as finely as the tines of a tuning fork. I would recommend it to anyone who likes fine writing, effective story telling, and strong subject matter.
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Do not expect this book to shed any light on the culture and people of Hong Kong...

I bought this book because the stories were set in my hometown, despite the fact that I usually do not like short stories. I was quite disappointed mostly because the Chinese people depicted in those stories seem more alien to me than anything else. They were definitely not the everyday Hong Kong people one would meet. I felt that the the writer was still trying to portray Hong Kong as a mysterious place when it is definitely not.

The writing is not bad, but the contents and plots left much to be desired.
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Personally, I'm not a great fan of short stories. Perhaps it's because I like big-picture things. But Jess Row's short story collection THE TRAIN TO LO WU is a brilliant multi-faceted exploration of the multiple ways in which people can misunderstand one another. Especially in a place like Hong Kong, with its modern high-rises, churning capitalism and sea mists.

We learn about a Chinese girl who goes around blind-folded to experience the echo-location of bats, about a wife who drives her husband to a Buddhist retreat to shore up their marriage, about the gulf between a rich sophisticate and the alluring, yet crushed wallflower he tries to save, and about the idealistic young lawyer sent to deliver unpalatable news to an ex-pat.

In the strict sense of the term, this is not a linked collection of short stories, because none of the characters reappear. Yet the mood and content give one the feeling of circling round and round the similar issues of meeting and parting, of understanding and misunderstanding, and the thorny paths of knowledge, both self-knowledge and knowledge of others. Five stars.
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