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

By James Fallows

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....

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/06/-rock-paper-tiger-plus-more-on-e-readers/58009/