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

THE ARTISANS

THE LEGACY OF THE ANCESTORS OF SHEN VILLAGE

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.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

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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A deceptively slender but rich argument in favor of conserving liberal ideals—and liberal government.

LIBERALISM AND ITS DISCONTENTS

The renowned political scientist and philosopher considers classical liberalism and the broad range of enemies arrayed against it.

“By ‘liberalism,’ ” writes Fukuyama, “I refer to the doctrine…that argued for the limitation of the powers of governments through law and ultimately constitutions, creating institutions protecting the rights of individuals living under their jurisdiction.” Born of events such as the English civil war and the Enlightenment, this liberalism also encouraged diversity of thought, religion, and ethnicity, placing it squarely in the crosshairs of today’s authoritarian nationalists, not least Donald Trump. Fukuyama has often been identified with conservative causes, but his thinking here is democratic to the core, and he has no use for such pathetic lies as Trump’s insistence that the 2020 election was stolen. That said, the author notes that liberalism has many enemies on both the left and the right for numerous real yet correctable failings. The neoliberalism that has emerged over the past couple of generations has accelerated inequality, and numerous institutions have been eroded while others, such as the Electoral College, have been revealed to be anti-democratic. Both left and right, the author argues, have trouble accepting that governing over diversity, the hallmark of liberalism, means governing over many ethnic and national groups, strata of income, and competing interests. He adds, however, “Left-of-center voters…remain much more diverse” in political outlook. Essential to a liberal society, Fukuyama insists, is the right to vote: “Voting rights are fundamental rights that need to be defended by the power of the national government.” While he insists that individual rights take precedence over group rights, he also observes that the social contract demands citizen participation. To the conservative charge that the social contract is one thing but the “common moral horizon” another, he answers that yes, liberalism does not insist on a single morality—which “is indeed a feature and not a bug.”

A deceptively slender but rich argument in favor of conserving liberal ideals—and liberal government.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-374-60671-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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