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Book Review: After enjoying Guy Delisle's Pyongyang immensely, I could not resist picking up yet another graphic memoir of his, this time chronicling his three month stay for work in Shenzhen, a city in South China near Hong Kong. The cultural and political idiosyncrasies of the country are well captured in his trademark humorous and witty style- the language issues, sometimes days passing by without saying a word, the traumatizing experience of visiting a dentist, the cuisine which in most parts he enjoys barring few exotics like pigs' gums and a drink made of snakes entrails :) Shenzhen is sealed off by an electric fence from Hong Kong guarded day and night by soldiers maybe to stop people from escaping from their dry mundane existence in the city. One sentence stands out and that is Guy's forceful declaration that "China is the dirtiest country in the world!" This book was written more than 15 years ago so things may have changed now :)
On the graphics, in this book his pencilwork has a bleary smudgy black quality probably reflecting his experience of staying in Shenzhen.
Overall throughly enjoyable and soon will be picking more of his books :)
In Shenzhen – A travelogue from China, Guy Delisle has sketched a story of foreigner visiting and living (for 3 months) in Shenzhen. The book mainly portrays the dull and uneventful life and hardships that Guy encountered during his stay in Shenzhen. Guy, an animator by profession, visits Shenzhen to complete a 3-month project based work and to replace an old animator who works at the animation house. Returning to China after a gap of few years, he rediscovers the city of Shenzhen with an astonishing fashion witnessing the city’s rapid urbanization. Shenzhen, a declared special economic zone (SEZ), quarantines itself from rest of China – people in China consider Shenzhen as an Eldorado recognizing rapid economic growth. The novelist poignantly portrays the obsession with Shenzhen that Chinese people posses along with his contrasting views about the city - making the book worth reading.
His staying China is like a bouquet of ‘mini’ harmless controversies complemented with a string of funny incidents. His awkward (unintentional though) relationship with fellow animators; zero-visibility of foreigners puts him in trouble zone which eventually leads him to think what exactly the term ‘freedom’ implies. He finds it astounding when he witnesses that the entire city is guarded by soldiers. A prisoner-like situation pushes him to draw a comparison between Shenzhen and any other cities of the west.
The same looking hotel rooms across the city or the presence of top western brands makes him feel flabbergasted. His tally of astonishment accumulates when he realizes that it’s really difficult to find a kitchen knife from the market recognizing the fact that the skyline of the city is populated with topmost foreign brands. Adding to that, he is taken aback when he discovers that shopping is the main pastime for the people of Shenzhen. But as a writer, he always tries to find happiness in little things such as his visit to a dentist which he will remember for the rest of his life; popcorn making process; rules of cycling on Shenzhen streets; or when he meets a person who laughs at him hearing the word communist – instances are many but worth knowing.
His mundane life in the city puts him in the position to observe the city and its people closely. He remains bemused watching the appalling condition of public toilets, comical yet miserable life of Chinese people partnered with rapid urbanization (for example, a race to complete a 3 storied building in 3 days). All these make the city look dull and ugly. His confusion grows the moment he sees women doing hard manual work on the streets to keep the flag of ‘women liberation’ fly high. Coming to his psychological state, the monotony of regularity catches him off-guard every now and then. He is also troubled by the thoughts that he can’t write or sketch like his compatriots. The degree of boredom creeps up when he fails to start a conversation in English with someone. But that doesn’t mean he feels always low- his visit to Canton and Hong Kong or the expeditions to explore different food items takes him to different restaurants ultimately always gives him a breath of fresh air.
Like the start, the book ends with an uneventful fashion, without creating anything jazzy and bold.
As a non-fiction graphic novel, Guy carefully portrays the differences between western and eastern societies by comparing them. His fish-out-of-the-water like situation makes it a worth reading.
This being Guy's first book in this genre....it's a trifle written from a pedestral. It has...of very less quantity though.... a first world's observation of the third world. The basic account is fantastic though. In his later books... I feel he has grown as a person and it reflects. Good that i read his other books before this.
The observations in this book are brilliant. The author has a wonderful cultural sensitivity. Great artistic skill, witty references. The drawback is the author seems to find (self-professed) ignorance of the culture of his subject more rewarding (as an artist and writer) than knowledge, which requires more time and patience than the author appears to have. A very entertaining read that is makes a success of acute observations that lead nowhere.
I really enjoyed this book - I read it in a night (not a great feat as it is not a very long book, but it held my attention nonetheless). I haven't read any of the author's other books, but I will certainly check them out. The storyline was interesting and full of funny little observations, and I felt I finished it with an idea of how it felt to be stuck in Shenzhen and unable to speak the language. The pictures were charmingly unsophisticated, but very evocative (black and white, and sketch-style). Great book.
I love his work. I want tokeep turning the pages of his strange travel situations.. illustrated beautifully and keeps you turning the page to find out what happens next even if it is the same as the day before 😄
I love Delisle's travelogues and although I think Shenzen is the weakest of the set I still love it. I would suggest reading it as the first and trying to read them in order if possible as they get better and better.