A wonderful portrait of provincial China rendered in a beautifully accessible translation.



A Chinese journalist’s intimate vignettes reveal the lives of citizens from his rural hometown, unearthing a deep layer of Chinese history rarely seen beyond its borders.

“When our hometowns vanish, we become rootless people, individual atoms existing in isolation within the ice-cold city,” writes Shen at the beginning, lamenting the decline of the village that has been inhabited for centuries. “We who left our hometowns have nothing to rely on, and are anxiously absorbed by the prosperity of urban life. Surrounding us are the faces of familiar strangers.” Like many young Chinese, Shen left the village for greater opportunity in the city, horrified by “what seemed to me like a dark future in the village.” He left at age 18 and did not return until 2001, 10 years later. “The swift decay of the village shocks me,” he writes, with no young people or children to be found. “Virtually every time I return, I see a newly added grave,” he writes. “Along with the declining population, one old house after another falls into disrepair and then disappears.” The author writes fondly of Mr. He, the bricklayer whose garden was the most beautiful in the village, and how he was one of the first Christian converts and thereby somewhat suspect in a place where the ways of the ancestors were deeply revered. Other characters in Shen’s affecting narrative include a tofu maker, a lantern maker, a tailor, a schoolteacher, and a carpenter, all with their own secrets and tragedies. Collectively, their stories transport readers back to a bygone time when the village was turned into an agricultural collective and, later, the period in the 1950s when the people suffered through a famine. Each fully fleshed character represents an element of an often hidden Chinese history; as Shen writes in this eloquent text, “each person, no matter how humble, contains an epic poem of their own.”

A wonderful portrait of provincial China rendered in a beautifully accessible translation.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66260-075-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Astra House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.


A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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Gates offers a persuasive, 30,000-foot view of a global problem that, he insists, can be prevented given will and money.


The tech mogul recounts the health care–related dimensions of his foundation in what amounts to a long policy paper.

“Outbreaks are inevitable, but pandemics are optional.” Thus states the epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, a Gates adviser, who hits on a critically important point: Disease is a fact of nature, but a pandemic is a political creation of a kind. Therefore, there are political as well as medical solutions that can enlist governments as well as scientists to contain outbreaks and make sure they don’t explode into global disasters. One critical element, Gates writes, is to alleviate the gap between high- and low-income countries, the latter of which suffer disproportionately from outbreaks. Another is to convince governments to ramp up production of vaccines that are “universal”—i.e., applicable to an existing range of disease agents, especially respiratory pathogens such as coronaviruses and flus—to prepare the world’s populations for the inevitable. “Doing the right thing early pays huge dividends later,” writes Gates. Even though doing the right thing is often expensive, the author urges that it’s a wise investment and one that has never been attempted—e.g., developing a “global corps” of scientists and aid workers “whose job is to wake up every day thinking about diseases that could kill huge numbers of people.” To those who object that such things are easier said than done, Gates counters that the development of the current range of Covid vaccines was improbably fast, taking a third of the time that would normally have been required. At the same time, the author examines some of the social changes that came about through the pandemic, including the “new normal” of distance working and learning—both of which, he urges, stand to be improved but need not be abandoned.

Gates offers a persuasive, 30,000-foot view of a global problem that, he insists, can be prevented given will and money.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-53448-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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