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on 21 February 2018
Alice Mannegan has come to China seeking a new identity. Her mother died at her birth, and her father is a racist American politician who used her as a pawn in one of his loathsome segregation speeches when she was small, something from which she's never quite recovered. She became captivated by China as a student, became fluent in Mandarin and has lived in the country, largely in Beijing, for several years, working for a pittance as an interpreter (she does get an allowance from her father as well). By night, she roams the bars of China seeking the perfect Chinese man - but with no real success. Until, that is, a job working for an American archaeologist who is determined to find the skeleton of 'Peking Man' discovered by the Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard du Chardin, puts her in contact with a Chinese academic called Lin Shiyang, who accompanies them into the Mongolian wilderness on their expedition. Lin Shiyang has other reasons for being there along with his work - he's hoping to find out what happened to his wife, sent years before for 're-education' in a labour camp near where Alice and the archaeologist Adam are heading. But he soon realizes that, great though his need is to find out what happened to his wife, he's also very attracted to Alice, or 'Mo Ai Li' as she calls herself in China. Alice, meanwhile, begins to suspect that this is the man that she's needed for so long - the man who will allow her to truly participate in Chinese culture, and shrug off her American past. But can she ever do this? And will the father who has already ruined one relationship with a Chinese academic for her strike down this one too?

I'm inclined to give this book four stars simply because of the abundance of good material on China, the superb descriptions of the landscape, the food and the hectic pace of life in Beijing, and the fascinating bits of historical information (such as the story of Lin Shiyang's wife, banished to a labour camp for being a woman of integrity). Alice's strenuous attempts to 'become Chinese' - even to following ancient traditions such as ancestor-worship - were poignant and easy to sympathize with, and the historical story of Teilhard du Chardin and his platonic affair with an American artist called Lucille Swan very engrossing - and it was interesting how Mones drew parallels between that story and Alice's own. Lin Shiyang was also a very well-created hero, attractive without being idealized. I finished the book with a much greater interest in China and its culture and history, and wanting to know more about Teilhard du Chardin and Lucille Swan - proof of a good book, I guess.

But - there was one big problem for me, and that was the character of Alice, who seemed unbelievably naive in certain regards, and with improbably little self-knowledge. Her relationship with her father Horace was not particularly well realized, I felt - Alice seemed to veer between a rather sentimental 'Daddy's the only person I have' devotion and an equally simplistic repulsion which to me didn't quite make sense. If she was still so horrified by her father's right-wing politics and racism, then why did she continue to take a generous allowance from him? And why did she let him ruin her first engagement, to a man who seemed kind, her intellectual equal and genuinely devoted to her? There was an implication that it was to do with needing to keep her allowance which sounded rather sordid. Perhaps the problem was that Horace Mannegan was a poorly created character in comparison to the Chinese ones - he appeared to be a repellent blend of ruthlessness and sentimentality from which one would have felt most young women would have recoiled, Mones never explained anything about how he'd picked up and maintained such unpleasant racist views, and his illness (I think Mones possibly picked the wrong kind of cancer for this, as did Lionel Shriver with the snooker player in 'The Post-Birthday World') too convenient. I also felt that Alice had a rather sentimental view of China in the end - she never seemed to really address in her own mind either the problems of the Communist regime either under Mao or later, and I found it unbelievable that she didn't realize that her attempts to seemingly sleep with half of China were just another sort of colonialization. In the end, I wanted to shake her for not coming to terms with her past and for refusing to admit that she couldn't be Daddy's devoted little girl and remake herself as a Chinese woman. The ending only offered a limited hope, too, that she might be able to grow up. In the end, I found myself far more interested in the stories of Lin Shiyang and his wife and of Lucille and Teilhard du Chardin than in Alice's post-adolescent angst. And the other American male character, Adam, remained curiously unformed as a character.

Not an altogether satisfactory read then, and with a heroine who, despite some likeable episodes, can be decidedly irritating. Still, I was glad to read it, and at best it was superb - certainly an impressive debut, and one that's made me want to read more about China.
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on 2 March 2014
When reviewers hide behind the mask labelled "A customer" we are blocked from examining their other reviews & also from determining if this is the only review they've ever written in their lives. Also, none of these reviewers are listed as having purchased the book (from Amazon). This is highly unusual and raises doubts re: one hidden person writing multiple reviews & packing the ballot box.

Since there is variety in the reviews, maybe this 26 out of 26 pattern is due to an Amazon distortion and the reviewers wated to be identified. Amazon should look into this cuz it looks funny as it is.

My own vote (under my real name) is 5* to this startling journey of an American woman offering 100% commitment & a willingness to pay any price to become Chinese. It's her tragic fate that she seeks this in a country that wants to destroy the traditional as quickly as possible & imprisons her in the permanent stereotype of foreigner. No amount of "going native" no matter how deep and profound, will synchronize her with the China she is romanticizing in her mind & that she mistakenly hopes will give her a refuge. Her gifted, hard earned senstivity and empathy re: Chinese feelings will be set at naught by the chasm that cannot be bridged, heedless of her endless devotions and accomplishments. Instead of being overtaken by gloom, we rub our eyes at the heroic intensity of her giving the effort everything she has.
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on 2 February 1999
This novel of the intersection of language, identity, cultures and sex in an archeological expedition in China today is one of the best I have read in quite a while. With the Jesuit rebel priest and anthropologist, Teilhard de Chardin, as the leit-motif behind most of the personal interactions. the reader is offered new insights into human as well as divine love.The protagonists are an American woman trying to get as far away as possible from her racist father and the culture he ordains, an American anthropologist trying to recover Peking Man to restore his career, and a Chinese anthropologist who has been traumatized by the Cultural Revolution (called the Chaos by Chinese today)and his wife's destruction by it.Alice Mannegan's attempts to become Chinese are doomed despite her proficiency in the language and knowledge of the culture and history of China. It's painful but enthralling to watch her try to come to terms with her father, her "true Chinese man" Dr. Lin, and her possible future in China. She is not the most likeable person, but she is not repellant in any way. Just foolish in her understanding of herself and her history.Adam Spencer the American anthropologist who hires Alice as translator is the least interesting. Dr. Lin and the many Chinese actors in this tale reveal a great deal about contemporary China which I daresay most westerners,including myself, do not know.The mystery and the history of Peking Man's discovery, disappearance and possible final end is exciting. One learns much Chinese geography, customs and traditions, the subtleties of Chinese ideas, and the difficulties of life there today. We are very different from one another and we Americans do not realize how fortunate we are.As one who has lived in a foreign culture, I understand some of the difficulties an expatriate faces. This is a grand book which leaves one feeling satisfied by the truth of the emotions revealed and by the resolution of the mysteries at the core. Read it, you'll like it.
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on 26 January 2017
The book is very nice in terms of its backgrounds, as culture and geographical places. The citations of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's "The Phenomenon of Man" were wonderful to read as well as fragments from his letters with Lucile Swan. They gave the book its structure and beautiful meaning - to discover one's true self, and also finding the love, in which one is accepted and deeply appreciated for this. Those elements made the book enjoyable to read and gave it a true depth - it is somehow a pity, that the main story did not manage to catch up with this in general and in terms of the main characters and the overall not so substantial character development.
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on 13 August 1998
Running from her father's racism, Alice Mannegan has carved a life of sorts in Beijing,China. By day she is a translator opening the Chinese world to foreigners. At night she moves from bar to bar hoping that Chinese world will open for her. All that changes when she teams with American and Chinese archaelogists in a search for the remains of Peking Man. As the search unfolds, Mones offers her readers wonderfully panoramic glimpses of her characters, each as complex as the Chinese culture itself. This is a compelling story of cultural and family histories, each complex in their own way. It is also a story of love - losing it , regaining it, and realizing that sometimes it is never lost at all. Mones' knowledge, and obvious love, of China combined with her storytelling create a novel that enriches its readers. I highly recommend it.
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on 21 September 1998
Besides the very interesting love affair that is unfolding between Alice and Lin, you are swept up in the drama of the search for Peking Man. Nicole Mones provides insite into the Chinese mind that few Westerners have, and guides you through the landscape and customs. I had a hard time putting this down. I followed this Chinese experience with "Memoirs of a Gehisa", which certainly didn't hold my interest as much as "Lost in Translation".
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on 23 August 2001
This book is so original, like another reveiwer I didn't want it to end. Nicole Mones obviously loves China and "Lost In Translation" contains many insights into both the country and the people. At the begining of the book you learn that Alice wishes she were Chinese, and as the novel progresses you understand more and more why she feels this way.
If you only read one book about a foreigner's experience in China, this should be the one.
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on 30 March 1999
I totally enjoyed this wonderful novel! It is at once a love story, an adventure story, a history lesson, and a cultural exploration! Fascinating details about China and archaeology and Teilhard de Chardin! I loved the snippets of Chinese language (several dialects). My only regret is that this is a first time novel and I will have to wait to read more of Mones' work. Brava!
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on 29 June 1999
I really enjoyed this book. The back drop of searching for Peking Man gave it a very entertaining adventurous quality. And the other side of the novel, Alice Mannegan's search for herself and for love, was even more engrossing. One reviewer said that it was impossible to relate to any of the characters - I disagree. I found immense character development in this novel, and I especially sympathized with Alice. I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone.
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on 3 October 1998
The author, albeit a new author, has found a way to weave in mystery, love, history and an unusual cultural background into a most beautiful tapestry. Thought provoking, energizing, mesmerizing(at times) and has a unique style I found almost academic without being dry as old papyrus (as most writers tend to do when utilizing cultures not their own into books). For a first-time author, Mones is well endowed with the properties and talents to become one of our "Great American Authors". As a known "book-a-holic" to my family and many friends, this is not a light comment for me to make. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who loved "Memoirs of a Geisha" - along the same genre with a different style of writing. Bravo to both Nicole Mones and Arthur Golden - our new stars rising!!
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