I have three new China or adoption related books to review. I wanted to discuss them more in depth than in a What I’m Reading post so I thought I would compile them together in one post. A reminder that I am not an Amazon affiliate so the hyperlink on the title will take you to another book review or somewhere you can get more info on the book.
First up is Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows. I picked it up after Elizabeth at Ordinary Time recommended it. Deborah is a world traveler who speaks many languages. She and her husband lived in China for several years, during which time she tried to learn Chinese. She already spoke Japanese because they had previously lived in Japan. Some of her observations on the differences between the two languages are interesting. The book is a memoir but it is also a commentary on what you can learn about Chinese culture through their language. If you have learned another language then you might already be familiar with this. One of the first things that I learned about Chinese is that the literal translation of the word no is “not yes.” Indeed, the Chinese do not like to tell you no directly.
The tonal system, bane of your existence if you have ever tried to learn a little Chinese, is a frequent topic of conversation. One of my favorite parts was when she told about a famous Chinese poem which is written with many different characters, all of which are pronounced “shi.” Another fascinating section dealt with the difference in how the Chinese perceive directions. Or how the words for above and below are used for many concepts, including time. The book is full of tidbits of Chinese culture and history. It’s a difficult book to describe but a very quick and fun read.
Next is The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. Many parents in the adoptive community move on to The Whole-Brain Child after reading Karyn Purvis’ The Connected Child. The link above takes you to Purvis’ website where there is an extensive discussion on how relevant it is for parenting children from hard places. The Whole-Brain Child gives a more in depth discussion of brain development. It also includes parenting strategies which work with how the brain has developed. If you are parenting a child who is acting out of a primal fear or who gets stuck on one particular fear then those are areas where the book can provide useful information. The authors described the brain as a two story house. On the bottom floor are the primal areas of the brain and the second floor has the higher developed brain functions. When your child has a response triggered, it is described as if a baby gate has been locked across the stairs so the child can no longer access the higher developed brain functions. I found this really helpful for understanding how a child who is acting out can’t think or act rationally about whatever it was that triggered the response. While in some ways I found the book a little oversimplified–I often found myself wishing for more information–I can see why it is so popular with adoptive parents. A good addition to the library if you like to have expand your parenting tool options.
Finally, I have to admit that I read The Barefoot Lawyer by Chen Guangcheng several months ago. I decided to wait to review it on my blog until after our adoption had been completed because Mr. Chen is a political dissident who now resides in the United States. This memoir tells of Guangcheng’s early life growing up blind in rural China. If you have adopted a child with a vision impairment or are considering it then I highly recommend it for that reason. Guangcheng was not allowed to attend the village school. He did not receive any formal education until a teenager when he moved to Beijing to attend the school for the blind there. Guangcheng details the routine discrimination people with disabilities face in China. Guangcheng was able to pursue a higher education thanks to the financial sacrifices of his family. However, his real interest was in the law. He often acted as a voluntary unofficial lawyer (known as a barefoot lawyer in China) for human rights cases. This is what made him unpopular with the Chinese government. Mr. Chen eventually found himself under house arrest. He recounts the extreme measures which the Chinese government took to keep him away from the press.
Mr. Chen managed to escape from his village. He made his way to Beijing where he sought refuge with the US Consulate. Although he now resides in the United States, he does not spare his dissatisfaction with how the US government handled his case. His account of what happened differs dramatically from Hillary Clinton’s. If the US government had reservations about pressing China on the issue then they seem to be justified. According to the NPR review which I linked to above, China will no longer allow foreign governments to inquire about individual political prisoners.
I’ve got Deborah Gray’s Attaching Through Love, Hugs and Play on my end table right now so there are more reviews to come.