Thursday, April 14, 2011

Guest Review: Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang

*Note: No Literary Blog Hop this week. The next one will be up two weeks from today. 

Guest review by Lanée. In a previous life Lanée studied Comparative Literature but now she spends the majority of her time attempting to transfer her knowledge of the English language into the minds of Chinese six-year-olds without hurting anyone.When she’s not working she’s reading, traveling, or lecturing husband on the finer points of grammar. She's currently living in Guangzhou, China where the better parts of the internet are blocked.

Published: 2008

It's about: Factory Girls follows the chaotic lives of two Chinese migrant workers and their interactions with Chang (the author) over the course of a year. Written by Chang in the first-person, the book delves not only into the complicated undercurrents of migrant life but also into her personal family history and experiences as a Chinese-American. While documenting her encounters with numerous migrant women in the bustling urban monstrosity that is Dongguan, Chang focuses the narrative intermittently on her two most stable contacts—Min and Chunming.

I thought: I have to admit that I thought Factory Girls started out a bit rough with what seemed a somewhat poorly organized account that fails to draw clear connections between narrative segments. But don’t let that deter you, whatever the book lacks in initial structure it quickly regains with an astonishingly intimate look into the lives of its protagonists. Chang manages to reach through the chaos of migrant life and uncover two quite personal and human stories through which she successfully examines the complicated questions behind the largest human migration in the history of the world. Plus the stuff she talks about is just really interesting.

Chang’s personal insights and unique perspective make the book especially engaging. Her commentary is sharp and funny and gives Western readers a hand up in connecting with an unfamiliar world. Chang does literally everything she can to break into the world of migrant women, bringing readers to English classes, factory dorms, dark bus rides, and countryside homes. Her tenacity is admirable and pays off in a wealth of intimate and gritty details.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Factory Girls is that it manages to frankly portray an underprivileged sector of society without disintegrating into a sob story about the difficulties of migrant life. Chang describes both the reality of poor living conditions and exploitation as well as the excitement and lure that migrant lifestyle holds for many young women.

In the end Factory Girls is a really interesting read—one that explained, or at least put into words, a lot of things about China for me.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf then lend it to a friend, especially if you plan to travel to China anytime soon.

Reading Recommendations: I found it a bit difficult to get into at first, but read on, it’s worth it.

Favorite excerpts: “I came to like Dongguan, which seemed a perverse expression of China at its most extreme. Materialism, environmental ruin, corruption, traffic, pollution, noise, prostitution, bad driving, short-term thinking, stress, striving, and chaos: If you could make it here, you’d make it anywhere.”

What I'm reading next: On the Road by Jack Keroac and Tina Fey’s memoir Bossypants