Review: Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love and Language by Deborah Fallows

Source: Won from Goodreads Firstreads/Walker and Company
Publisher: Walker and Company
Edition: ARC, 208 pages
Genre: Nonfiction Memoir
Purchase: Amazon/ Barnes & Noble / Book Depository*
*I receive a small monetary kickback from Amazon purchases
Rating: 4/5

Deborah Fallows has spent much of her life learning languages and traveling around the world. But nothing prepared her for the surprises of learning Mandarin, China’s most common language, or the intensity of living in Shanghai and Beijing. Over time, she realized that her struggles and triumphs in studying the language of her adopted home provided small clues to deciphering the behavior and habits of its people,and its culture’s conundrums. As her skill with Mandarin increased, bits of the language–a word, a phrase, an oddity of grammar–became windows into understanding romance, humor, protocol, relationships, and the overflowing humanity of modern China. Fallows learned, for example, that the abrupt, blunt way of speaking that Chinese people sometimes use isn’t rudeness, but is, in fact, a way to acknowledge and honor the closeness between two friends. She learned that English speakers’ trouble with hearing or saying tones–the variations in inflection that can change a word’s meaning–is matched by Chinese speakers’ inability not to hear tones, or to even take a guess at understanding what might have been meant when foreigners misuse them. In sharing what she discovered about Mandarin, and how those discoveries helped her understand a culture that had at first seemed impenetrable, Deborah Fallows’s Dreaming in Chinese opens up China to Westerners more completely, perhaps, than it has ever been before.

As with ARCs there will be grammatical, spelling, and capitalization mistakes. Most of these will be fixed and if mentioned in this review should not directly effect your decision to read. Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love and Language is a nonfiction work that gives a brief yet comprehensive look at Deborah Fallows life while in China and the way that the language of tongue, body and soul influenced her and others.

The way the the book flows reminds me somewhat of a book that one might read in a college course on Chinese(Mandarin) or the Chinese Lifestyle. It’s very informational but at the same time it’s simple, smooth flowing, and easy to understand. Fallows incorporated in pictures, charts, maps, footnotes,a nifty little Mandarin pronunciation guide and helpful internet links which help the reader to understand the way things work and how they might connect to the lifestyles mentioned. There was a picture of a Chinese Walmart that had me utterly speechless for a few minutes before I simply HAD to show someone, and I think that was the whole point. Imagine the culture shock an American goes through when they walk into that Walmart and they see stacks of meat alone the aisle or a turtle tank located near the beef. I enjoyed reading about someone else’s look into a language that isn’t originally their own as well as the helpful and enjoyable stories she included as well. I found it surprising that even the Chinese have a hard time overcoming language barriers within their own country with having so many different dialects I really liked the characters at the beginning of each chapter that kind of summed it all up, to me that was really inventive and kind of made it easier to jump into the next chapter. To me this was a fun and short read.

4 stars

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