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Something Like a House [Paperback]

Sid Smith
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

11 Jan 2002
The winner of the 2001 Whitbread First Novel Award, this is an extraordinary story of an unknown China.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; New Ed edition (11 Jan 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330480871
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330480871
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,222,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Journalist Sid Smith's debut novel is a brave excursion into little-known and alien territory. Armed with stocks of historical, political and medical information, he has somehow made the imaginative leap into a realm few understand: the sealed-off world of China during the Cultural Revolution.

James Stuart Fraser, a private in the British Army, deserts and ends up spending 35 years "among the unshiftable Chinese". Many of those years are spent in the wretched poverty of a village of the despised Miao people, where life revolves around the solitary buffalo. The incredible tedium of Fraser's rural subsistence (existence is too strong a term) is evoked in a taut prose, filled with enthralling and convincing detail.

However, as time passes Fraser grows aware of the pseudo-academic work going on at the clinic, where eugenicists wreak havoc with village life in their search for the scientific "truth" of race. As years suddenly pass in a paragraph, the pace races unannounced to thriller speed and the carefully wrought momentum Smith had achieved is lost. Notwithstanding, Smith has an important story to tell, and at its best, Something Like A House is very good indeed. --Alan Stewart --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'I suspect this book will be compared with Robinson Crusoe (the outsider building his own abode) and Lord of the Flies (the long-term effects of context on individual mortality). It is a profound and sophisticated work of fiction' Observer

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I hoped it would be better 23 Aug 2001
By A Customer
I have lived in China and also studied Chinese history, and the Cultural Revolution has always fascinated me, so when I saw this book while I was on holiday in the UK I bought it immediately. I so much wanted to like this book, and so I am a little disappointed to only be able to give it 3 stars, but I really can't give it any more.
The first few pages promise so much ("Hello. Call me Jim. I have seen amazing things.") And I thought, fantastic, this will be such an original read, and insightful, too. But what amazing things has he seen? The cannibalism described in the book, one of the dark secrets of the Cultural Revolution, seems to be viewed through a veil. It just happens, and the characters move on. Likewise with Madame Fei's memories of medical experiments and torture by the Japanese, Sid Smith describes such terrible things, and I felt I was watching something small on a screen. This is what surprised and disappointed me: that this novel could have explored the 'why' of so much that happened, but it didn't. After 35 years in China, Fraser seems the same as when he first arrived, and that left me not caring much what happened to him. But perhaps this is the insight I should take from this book; that despite the horror of so much of the last 50 years in China, people continue to live side by side, leaving so much unsaid.
If you have never been to China this book may be more interesting, but if you are only going to read one book about a foreigner's experience in China, read "Lost In Translation" by Nicole Mones instead. It had more insights into the impact of the Cultural Revolution on people's lives, and is written in a way that will pull you into the side streets of Beijing and the dusty expanses of China's North-West, and you will understand why a foreigner would want to become Chinese.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astoundingly good 6 Sep 2001
This book got wonderful reviews in the press and you can see why. You're gripped like a vice from page one, and (along with the enthralling adventure of a Westerner surviving in the backwoods of China) there are amazing true-life revelations about everything from how to get a rope through a buffalo's nostrils to how it will soon be possible to kill every Chinese person on the planet. I've also never seen such a great description of Buddhist Enlightenment, when you feel how "the air puts its mouth around every pebble" and how "every pleasure equals its rarity". There isn't a word wasted and some readers may not be up to it -- but this book is something like a masterpiece.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, but a bit shallow 30 Jan 2002
By A Customer
I enjoyed this book. In fact, I recommended this book to other people. The prose is enjoyable, the topic interesting, and the subject engaging. However, it was a bit shallow on all of the topics that it might have dealt with concerning the policies of the Chinese government towards native peoples and the experience of a foreigner abroad. It was strange that one never really got the feeling of regret or concern from the main character on leaving his home life.
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