I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog because November is not just the start of the crazed holiday season (especially when you have 30 people over for Thanksgiving and don’t bother to clean your house until the day before), but it’s also National Novel Writing Month. Yesterday I completed the 50,000 words to win NaNoMoWri, although I’m not finished with the story yet. I’ve titled it A Gentleman from Shanghai, and look forward to reading through it once the holidays wind down.
For my book of the week, I turn back to a lovely memoir I read this summer, when I had time to pour through two or three books a week. Home is a Roof Over a Pig (Overlook, 2012) by Aminta Arrington takes a sharp turn from other American-family-in-China memoirs. I was impressed with her book for several reasons:
* Arrington and her husband bring their three young children to a small city in Shandong Province because it’s the only place that will hire foreign teachers who want to bring along their children.
* The children attend local schools without knowing a word of Chinese.
* Arrington’s daughter, Grace, was adopted from China, so the author embarks on a journey to find out why and how her daughter was abandoned.
* Each chapter is named for a different Chinese character, which Arrington effortlessly incorporates into her story.
Arrington and her family end up in China because at the end of her husband’s military career, he told his wife that she could decide where they lived next. She thought it would be meaningful to teach in China, the country where their daughter, Grace, was born. She wanted her two biological children to understand where their sister came from.
As noted above, it wasn’t easy to find a university that would employ foreign teachers who had dependent children. A university in Tai’an, Shandong Province, would provide housing for their family of five. It wasn’t the posh expat flats or houses of Beijing and Shanghai. It was uncomfortable, rustic, and cramped. For all there was to complain about their living conditions, the author took it in stride.
But she does write candidly about their tough adjustment to life in China. She and her husband grew frustrated with the rote style of learning, and the propaganda that their students had been exposed to from a young age. Even though I’ve spent time in China, I appreciated her observations about her life there and about about China in general (women, identity, Hong Kong, cold, and language, just to name several). It was obvious that Aminta Arrington wasn’t just an observer in Shandong; she was a participant.
Home is a Roof Over a Pig is perfect for people who don’t know much about China, but also for old China hands. It’s a lovely story of adoption and raising multicultural children.