Nonfiction November – Book Pairing

NonfictionNovember-e1506979820517How has the beginning of your Nonfiction November been?  I’m doing well, but it may have not been the best idea to read three different medical books, all dealing with death in some way, at the same time (eep).  Thankfully some well-placed fiction has kept things moving nicely.

Speaking of fiction, this week Nonfiction November is pairing fiction and nonfiction together.  It took me a while to come up with a combo but finding it was a eureka moment! Without any further ado:

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang

Lotus by Lijia Zhang

2635587Factory Girls is a wide-ranging, deep, and humanizing look at the women who work in the factories of China’s Southern coast.  Chang follows them as they arrive, jump factories for higher pay, and acclimate to a new way of living.  The author weaves insights from her own family’s history in a way that enlightens, and the prose is beautiful and engaging.  Solid reporting beautifully told, it’s a book that has stuck with me since I picked it up a year and a half ago.

31204038The novel Lotus makes for a great pairing, seeing as how it’s written by a former factory girl and takes place in the same area of China as Chang’s book.  Instead of working in a factory, though, Lotus is a prostitute that is navigating a life with many lousy options.  How can she find herself, then be true that person? Who is her ally, and who is better left behind? The deep characterization pulls us through as we watch the Lotus, her coworkers, and photojournalist Bing make their choices.  Grounded yet out of the ordinary.

That’s it for me – what nonfiction have you guys been reading this week?

Lotus by Lijia Zhang

31204038Surviving by her wits alone, Lotus charges headlong into the neon lights of Shenzhen, determined to pull herself out of the gutter and decide her own path. She’s different than the other streetwalkers—reserved, even defiant, Lotus holds her secrets behind her red smile.

The new millennium should’ve brought her better luck, but for now she leads a double life, wiring the money home to her family and claiming she earns her wages waiting tables. Her striking eyes catch the attention of many, but Lotus weighs her options between becoming the concubine of a savvy migrant worker or a professional girlfriend to a rich and powerful playboy. Or she may choose the kind and decent Hu Binbing, a photojournalist reporting on China’s underground sex trade—who has a hidden past of his own. She knows that fortunes can shift with the toss of a coin and, in the end, she may make a choice that leads her on a different journey entirely.

Review:

I enjoyed Lotus but it wasn’t love at first sight.  I had a hard time getting into the prose – Zhang’s writing style isn’t experimental or dramatic, but it took a while to align the way my mind moves with her words.  Once I did I found myself drawn into the story of Lotus, a prostitute inspired by the secret life of the author’s grandmother, and photojournalist Bing.

The style is simple and belies the well-laid out plot and deep characterization at work.  We meet characters as whole people and learn more about their back story and motivations as the chapters go by.  Later information never invalidates a previous action but adds depth and nuance. Over time the characters, including minors ones, become even more real. They change and grow due to later events, pulling us through without the need for a gripping A through B to C plot.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a plot.  We watch as Lotus makes her way in the world, trying to find the best path among many lousy options.  How can she find herself, then be true that person?  Who is her ally, and who is better left behind?  Bing has choices of his own tied up with money and love, as well as a past that won’t let him go.

I was worried that the ending would be overly sad or maudlin but Zhang crafts a satisfying conclusion that took me by surprise while being true to all the characterization that leads up to it.  Lotus is interesting for its craft and story and is great for those looking for something grounded yet out of the ordinary.

Thanks to Henry Holt & Company and NetGalley for providing a review copy.