Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On China by Henry Kissinger

On China by Henry Kissinger
608 pages
Published May 2011 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

In July of 1971, then National Security Adviser to President Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, made a secret trip to China. This trip was the precursor to Nixon's historic 1972 trip to China and the beginning of more friendly relations between the United States and China and opened trade. But how was it that Nixon was the first sitting U.S. President ever to visit China and why were relations so frosty up to that point? In On China, Mr. Kissinger takes an in-depth look at China, it's interactions with other societies and the development of trade and relations between those countries.

With the power that China now wields over the world, I thought it was important to read what one of the leading experts on the subject has to say about China and how we interact with them. As the daughter of a Current Events high school teacher, the evening news was always a part of my life and I vividly remember Kissinger from the Nixon administration and the trip to China, making this book even more of a draw for me. I knew this one was going to be a stretch for me, taking me well out of my usual comfort zone, and I had a feeling that I was going to be overloaded with information. It was, it did, and I was.

Kissinger opens the book with China's history and within thirty pages my head was swimming with names and dates but mostly with ideas. Ideas that had me nodding my head, thinking "well, that explains a lot."
"At its ultimate extent, the Chinese cultural sphere stretched over a continental area much larger than any European state, indeed about the size of continental Europe. The extent and variety of this territory bolstered the sense that China was a world unto itself."
For the earliest years, the Chinese considered themselves to the center of the world, the "Middle Kingdom." Not only was China larger, until the Industrial Revolution, it was also richer than any of the European states, making it hard for the Chinese to every feel the need to develop trade with other countries. Kissinger also writes, of China's history: "What was most remarkable about the Chinese approach to international affairs was less its monumental formal pretensions than its underlying strategic acumen and longevity." This seems to still be a strategy the Chinese are using.

Kissinger writes about how Confucius, Sun Tzu and the game wei qi have influenced the Chinese in their dealings with other countries. In fact wei qi in particular, comes back again and again as Kissinger explores his own role in opening relations with China. This is a game in which each player is constantly seeking relative advantage, "mitigating the strategic potential of his opponents pieces." As masters of the actual game, the Chinese have made the game part of their international dealings. He also writes extensively about the era of Mao Zedong and the formation of  modern China.

Richard Nixon took office at a time when China was perhaps more vulnerable to U.S. entreaties; with the U.S.S.R. building up troops along the Chinese borders and a major skirmish behind them, China was looking to ally with the U.S. against a common enemy. The U.S. was looking to redefine its foreign policy and retain its role as a world leader. Kissinger delves deeply into the roads that led both sides to this point and the steps it took to bring both sides to an agreement, particularly his own role in the journey.

On China is every bit the challenge I anticipated it to be and, to be honest, I ended up racing through the book to get it done on time. I have every intention of going back, over the coming months, and reading this one with the full attention it deserves. While I can see that the book contains some bias, being written as it is by someone so intimately involved, I found it extremely interesting and thought provoking. In light of the fact that opening trade with China gave us their cheap goods and them so much of our money, it might be argued that Nixon's 1972 mission wasn't such a good thing for the U.S. But it certainly makes for an interesting book and one that will lay a good basis for understanding future relations between the two countries.
For other opinions (many of them from people with a far greater understanding of the region than I have), check out the full book tour:

Wednesday, May 11th: Man of La Book
Thursday, May 12th: Mark's China Blog
Monday, May 16th: Hidden Harmonies China Blog
Tuesday, May 17th: Inside-Out China
Wednesday, May 18th: Lisa Graas
Monday, May 23rd: Divided We Stand United We Fall
Tuesday, May 24th: Bookworm's Dinner
Wednesday, May 25th: Pacific Rim Shots
Thursday, May 26th: Asia Unbound
Tuesday, May 31st: Wordsmithonia
Wednesday, June 1st: Lit and Life
Thursday, June 2nd: ChinaGeeks
Tuesday, June 7th: booker rising
Wednesday, June 8th: Power and Control
Thursday, June 9th: Marathon Pundit
Friday, June 10th: Rundpinne
Date TBD: Rhapsody In Books
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Armchair BEA - Nurturing Relationships

When I started blogging almost two years ago, I did it for a couple of reasons. I thought it looked like a fun, creative way to talk about books with other people who might care. And...**hanging head in shame**...I wanted to have a URL when I left comments on other people's blogs. I didn't want to be "Anonymous" any more, or that blank person picture that pops up next to your comments. Although, to be honest, I could much more easily have just set up a Google account with a picture. But then, I didn't know how to do that then either.

Now if you asked me why I blog, I would still say that the first reason stands. But a completely unexpected thing happened after I started blogging, something that keeps me blogging. I met people. Oh sure, I haven't actually met any of you. But I feel like I have; I consider so many of you friends! I've started to think about who I could actually met if I traveled to different places. If I went to Michigan, I'd travel to the thumb to meet Staci; in New York, I'd want to see Teri and Amy; in Dallas I'd get to meet Trish and Holly. You get the picture. My greatest regret about not getting to go to BEA is that I won't get to meet everyone.

It's not just bloggers I'm wishing I could met; there are publishers and publicists that I've gotten to know and even authors. As someone who grew up loving books, who has always been in awe of the way authors are able to transport me into another world, getting to talk to authors is like getting to talk to an NFL star or one of my favorite musical performers. So when I discovered Jennie Nash's (author of The Last Beach Bungalow and The Threadbare Heart) blog, I was thrilled when she responded to my comments. Soon we were talking back and forth about her teaching, the novel she was working on and even our families. Before I knew it she was sending me the manuscript for The Threadbare Heart. I've written here before of my excited response when the package containing the manuscript arrived and it remains today one of my prized possessions.

**due to computer problems, I've been unable to post anything for the past few days so this post is a bit delayed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
304 pages
Published May 2011 by Harper Collins Publishers
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Two men: Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones. One white, one black. Both living in the same small town in Mississippi. M-I-crooked letter, crooked letter-I-crooked letter, crooked letter-I-humpback-humpback-I.

One the surface, Larry grew up appearing to have every advantage. An intact family, the color of his skin in a place and time where that mattered. But in Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, Larry is the more sympathetic of the two men. Larry never fit in any where. Not in his own family where his father mocked him for not being mechanically inclined, not in school where his love of books and knowledge were not valued. He grows up almost entirely friendless.

Silas is the boy, the man, we should empathize with--he grew up abjectly poor, fatherless and the wrong color in a place and time where that mattered. But there is a darkness to Silas that always keeps us at arms length. As he grows up, things begin to be better for him because, as a star athlete, he does fit in. In high school, while Larry is the boy that the other kids shun, Silas is the boy that other kids carry off the ball field on their shoulders.

Years after growing up, both men are once again living in the small town, no longer friends for reasons that are unclear to Larry. Silas is still the person that every one loves, working as constable and known to everyone by the number from his high school baseball jersey. Because of what happened on the one and only date he ever had, Larry is living a life of complete isolation. No friends, no local business at his father's old service station, his mailbox routinely destroyed. "Scary Larry" lives life with only mountains of books as his friends.

When a wealthy local girl goes missing, suspicion falls on Larry and Silas finds himself investigating. In this little town, it turns out that what happens on the surface is masking a myriad of secrets. Chabot, Mississippi is definitely not Mayberry, RFD.
"The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house."
Tom Franklin drew me in from the opening sentence and the energy and tension of the book never flagged. Who is the monster who has come to shoot Larry Ott? What did Larry say to Silas years ago that led to Silas beating Larry and the end of their friendship. What happened to Cindy Walker, the girl that Larry took on that date twenty years ago? Questions were flooding my mind as I raced through this book. As Franklin moves back and forth in time, slowly the answers begin to reveal themselves even as new ones are raised.

It's hard for me to believe that this book is just now being released. I've been hearing so much about it for months now and I was thrilled to be included on this tour. But, as so often is the case, I was concerned that no book could live up to the hype. This one does, with Franklin deftly blending mystery with the greater story of loneliness and friendship. His writing brings to life these characters and the many dimensions of small-town life. It is spare where it needs to be but never lacking in color. For me, the ending was a bit too tidy; I actually found myself hoping for a unclear ending. But that was the only flaw I found in Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. 

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour!