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Something Like A House Paperback – 11 Jan 2002
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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' ObserverSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
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.