I don’t know why I am drawn to tales such as this one – an individual’s search for their family’s origins – when in actuality, i find the topic of family history rather dull. But The Porcelain Thief sounded truly intriguing to me: an American Born Chinese (ABC) goes back to China to try to find the treasure his great-great-great grandfather buried when the Japanese invaded in the early part of the 20th century.
Huan Hsu does a fabulous job of describing what it is like to be somewhat of a stranger in a strange land. So many of the complications he ran into reminded me of the run around I got as a researcher in India. The difference is, of course, that Hsu is an American of Chinese descent and people often assume he has a better understanding of the culture and the language than he does. And I loved the parts of the book documenting his present day experiences at work, with his family and trying to discover his family history.
A large portion of the book also set out to place Hsu’s family’s experiences within the larger context of Chinese history – the end of dynastic rule, rise of Communism and the Great Leap Forward. At first I found this both fascinating and enlightening, but by the end of the book I was bogged down in detail. I started to skim larger and larger sections depicting the experiences of various members of his family.
Who would like this book? The Porcelain Thief is a great primer on the history of 20th century China. It looks both at the past and the present in a illustrative way. I can see it being widely used as a university text for courses on Chinese history. In truth I wanted it to be more like The Juggler’s Children (review), another book in which a journals delves into her ancestry.
I received a copy of this book for review consideration from the publisher via NetGalley.