"Rock Paper Tiger," Plus More on E-readers

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To add to the list of "good fiction set in modern China," check out Rock Paper Tiger, by Lisa Brackmann. It's a mystery/action novel that pretty much pulls off something I would have thought improbable: combining an account of Iraq-war drama (the emphasis is on Abu Ghraib-type themes), with a portrayal of the urban China of these past few years, complete with overhyped art scene, dissident bloggers, lots of young expats, and constant uncertainty about what the government will permit or crack down on. Along the way, lots about the online gaming world that often seems the main passion of youthful Chinese, especially males.

I can't judge the fidelity of the Iraq-torture scenes, or of the games, for that matter. But the off-hand observations about Beijing -- and Taiyuan and Xi'an -- ring true to me, and are very different from what you'll hear from the standard media or business bigshot making a drop-by visit. Sample after the jump. Below, Brackmann in a photo from her site, when first in China in 1979.

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This is a racier version of expat life in Beijing than I know about first hand -- oh these kids! It's obviously unsentimental about contemporary Chinese values and governance, but if anything it's tougher on America's. Definitely worth reading.

Segue to next topic: I got the book while on my current trip through China, so my choices for buying it were online via Amazon's Kindle, or online via Barnes and Noble's nook. By making the comparison, I discovered some interesting things about the strategies the two companies are pursuing, plus the similarities and differences between their devices. More on those topics shortly.

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The opening words of Rock Paper Tiger. I think I know the building she's talking about -- or one of a hundred like it:

I'm living in this dump in Haidian Qu, close to Wudaokou, on the twenty-first floor of a decaying high-rise. The grounds are bare; the trees have died; the rubber tiles on the walkways, in their garish pink and yellow, are cracked and curling. The lights been out in the lobby since I moved in; they never finished the interior walls in the foyers outside the elevators; and the windows are boarded up, so every time I step outside the apartment door, I'm in a weird twilight world of bare cement and blue fluorescent light.

The worst thing about the foyer is that I might run into Mrs. Hua....
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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