Deborah Fallows has spent a lot of her life learning languages and traveling around the world. But nothing prepared her for the surprises of learning Mandarin - China's most common language - or the intensity of living in Shanghai and Beijing. Over time, she realized that her struggles and triumphs in studying learning the language of her adopted home provided small clues to deciphering behavior and habits of its people, and its culture's conundrums. As her skill with Mandarin increased, bits of the language - a word, a phrase, an oddity of grammar - became windows into understanding romance, humor, protocol, relationships, and the overflowing humanity of modern China.
Fallows learned, for example, that the abrupt, blunt way of speaking which Chinese people sometimes use isn't rudeness, but is, in fact a way to acknowledge and honor the closeness between two friends. She learned that English speakers' trouble with hearing or saying tones - the variations in inflection that can change a word's meaning - is matched by Chinese speakers' inability not to hear tones, or to even take a guess at understanding what might have been meant when foreigners misuse them.
Dreaming in Chinese is the story of what Deborah Fallows discovered about the Chinese language, and how that helped her make sense of what had at first seemed like the chaos and contradiction of everyday life in China.
Editors Select, January 2013 - As someone who frequently daydreams of moving to the other side of the world and learning a foreign language (and most likely never will!), I'm finding this book utterly fascinating. The author touches on the subtleties of language - how one word can have several meanings just by the speakers' tone - and how this impacts her interactions while living in Shanghai and Beijing. There are a lot of observations about language in this book, and I'm eager to hear how the narrator captures the journey of learning both the Mandarin Chinese language and culture. Jessica, Audible Editor
"You don't have to know Mandarin to be captivated by Deborah Fallows's Dreaming in Chinese.... Forget Berlitz - that just teaches words. Deborah Fallows shows us that the cultural implications of those words teach us about each other." (Sara Nelson, O: The Oprah Magazine)
"Fallows has a good ear for aspect, the way of stressing certain words and syllables to change or add layers of meaning to a simple word or phrase. She veers to the gentle, seeing the generosity behind brusque gestures, the intimacy and friendship behind rudeness and the priorities that language reveals. Playfulness, respect, affection and the virtues of solidarity with the common people - a different traveler might miss all these but not Fallows." (Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times)
“Narrator Catherine Byers deftly communicates the intricacies and particularities of the language. The accuracy of her Chinese pronunciation and her demonstrations of tones seem authentic, a factor that is important given what Fallows tells us about the difficulty of Chinese pronunciation and the travails she experienced as a result of her missteps in this regard.” (AudioFile)
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I would absolutely recommend the book to anyone who has any interest in China or the Chinese language. It is a deeply insightful book, examining a complex and easily misunderstood culture.
It was extremely helpful to know that others have struggled as much as I have with Mandarin. And after reading so many China-bashing travelogues, it was lovely to read something from someone who seems to have a genuine affection for the people, the culture and the language. The chapter about the earthquake was genuinely moving, allowing Ms. Fallows' neighbors to emerge as truly, independently human.
I have only one real complaint. The narrator is perfectly competent -- the enunciates very clearly, and emotes very subtly, which works well for non-fiction. However, given the nature of the book, it is jarring that the narrator makes no effort to pronounce the Chinese phrases correctly. Or perhaps she has made a little effort,but doesn't recognize that even pronunciation in this language requires *great* effort. I'm not being nitpicky or snobbish -- it's not that her Chinese is heavily accented, but that it would be almost incomprehensible to a native speaker. I recognize that it would be difficult to find a reader who has studied any Mandarin. However, she reads the Chinese words as if they were English, which tends to nullify the point of getting this on audiobook rather than in print.
- Victoria Smith
Interesting examination of Chinese culture