April Rabkin reviews Michelle Dammon Loyalka’s new book, ‘Eating Bitterness‘, for the San Francisco Chronicle:
Being a migrant in China is a bit like being an illegal immigrant in California. Essentially, when Chinese people move from the countryside to the city, they leave the benefits of citizenship behind ….
In “Eating Bitterness: Stories From the Front Lines of China’s Great Urban Migration,” Michelle Dammon Loyalka chronicles their inner lives. She chooses eight migrants living in one neighborhood of Xi’an, the city in northwestern China famous for terra-cotta warriors.
What she finds is fascinating: The nanny loves the spoiled toddler she works for more than her own children, who are stuck back in the countryside until they finish school; the knife-sharpening peddler can’t get used to city prices, and impossibly saves three-quarters of his meager income; the innkeeper, returning to her hometown, is preoccupied with keeping her black leather pants clean, next to neighbors washing clothes in the river. She looks down on them and no longer fits in there, but has yet to assimilate to the city. Loyalka writes about people in limbo.
Jeffrey Wasserstrom discussed the book with Loyalka at The China Beat last month:
JW: Novelists are often asked if they have a favorite fictional character, so I wonder if you have a favorite among the people you profile … as someone to write about? I guess that’s really a way of asking if you have a favorite chapter in the book?
MDL: That’s a tough one. Everyone I talked to had such a different story to tell, and I find each one so compelling in its own way. But if I had to choose a favorite I’d probably pick Chapter 8, “The Big Boss.” It’s about a 32-year old second-grade dropout who’s amassed a small fortune, only
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