Friday, March 26, 2010

Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy

Title: Fruit of the Lemon
Author: Andrea Levy
Publisher: Headline Book Publishing
Paperback: 340 Pages
Accolade: Winner of the Orange Prize for fiction

From the publisher:

Faith Jackson has set herself up with a great job and a brilliant flat share. But life is not that perfect. Her relations with her overbearing, though always loving, family leave a lot to be desired, especially when her parents announce their intention to retire back home to Jamaica. Perplexed, even furious, Faith makes her own journey there, where she is immediately welcomed by her Aunt Coral, keeper of a rich cargo of family history. Her aunt's compelling storytelling unfurls a wonderful cast of characters from Cuba, Panama, Harlem and Scotland in a story that passes through London and sweeps over continents.

I had totally forgotten about Andrea Levy's books until it recently popped up in some book discussions, especially her much touted literary master-piece 'Small Island' which garnered so much prize and attention all over the world. Before I got around to reading 'Small Island', I picked this book, just because it was a tad smaller than 'Small Island' and I wanted to get a taste of her writing first. She didn't betray my expectations. In fact, she swept me off my feet with her beautifully crafted, richly detailed and vibrant story of 'Fruit of Lemon'. From London to Jamaica, Cuba to Scotland, she conjured up beautiful images of the sceneries, of the people and their lives. She intricately wove a web of stories, each vividly imagined and so wonderfully portrayed.

Lemon tree very pretty
And the lemon flower is sweet
But the fruit of the poor lemon
Is impossible to eat
~ Will Holt, Lemon Tree

Her stories, especially from the Caribbean, were so refreshing. In 'Fruit of the Lemon', she took the protagonist of the novel, Faith Jackson, on an unforgettable journey of 'self-discovery' from London to her homeland Jamaica. What was revealed by her Jamaican Aunt Coral was an extraordinary account of Faith's ancestral past which make up the latter part of the book. With a little over a half dozen short stories that spread over the globe, they were golden nuggets, so impressively detailed, wonderfully described and standalone tales that could easily pass off as independent short stories. The family trees that were interspersed throughout the book, which initially seemed superfluous to me, made sense as the novel progressed. No way, I would have been able to keep track of all her characters without that family tree she put together. Even with that I lost myself in the maze as I dug deeper into the book, leaving me a little confused and frustrated. However, Only when I decided to let it all go and enjoy Coral's stories as independent anecdotes, I really began to enjoy the book. What I like about Andrea's writing was how she set up the premise of each story. Her passion and fervor for writing clearly came through her words, the emotions still clinging to the passages even after I moved on. More than the first half which dealt with racism and black immigrants in London, I was captivated by the second half which focused on the stories set against the Caribbean backdrop. Her vivid imaginations of white sand beaches, the women in floral-print skirts swaying their hips to the rhythms of music, the men in panama hat sipping on pineapple rum tantalized me so much, I almost wanted to book an airplane ticket to the Caribbean Islands.

They laid a past out in front of me. They wrapped me in a family history and swaddled me tight in its stories. And I was taking back that family to England. But it would not fit in a suitcase. I was smuggling it home.

The first half of the book that began with the story of Faith Jackson, her work as a dresser in a British Television Company and about her parents who came from Jamaica on a 'banana-boat'. Even though Faith's story set a wonderful preface for what was about to come next, the story did drag a bit when compared to the second half where she traveled to Jamaica to trace her ancestral roots. However, Levy tried to balance it out by generously dousing her prose with witticism and humor, barring the sections that dealt with racialism. Although the story was pertained to Faith and her journey of self-discovery, the importance of belonging that Faith longed for was something many immigrants can identify with. People with disconnected pasts, rooted in an alien country, often grapple with a sense of identity, the belonging, loneliness, discrimination and yearn to be with their own kind. Just like Faith's mother says "Everyone needs to know where they came from", this story was one memorable journey in the right step.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Writing on my Forehead by Nafisa Haji

Title: The Writing on my Forehead
Author: Nafisa Haji
Publisher: William Morrow
Hardcover: 320 Pages
Bay Area's notable fiction for 2009 - SF Chronicle

From the publisher:

From childhood, willful, intelligent Saira Qader broke the boundaries between her family's traditions and her desire for independence. A free-spirited and rebellious Muslim-American of Indo-Pakistani descent, she rejected the constricting notions of family, duty, obligation, and fate, choosing instead to become a journalist, the world her home.

Five years later, tragedy strikes, throwing Saira's life into turmoil. Now the woman who chased the world to uncover the details of other lives must confront the truths of her own. In need of understanding, she looks to the stories of those who came before—her grandparents, a beloved aunt, her mother and father. As Saira discovers the hope, pain, joy, and passion that defined their lives, she begins to face what she never wanted to admit—that choice is not always our own, and that faith is not just an intellectual preference.

Several reasons allured me towards this book. First and foremost, it is a family story of a Muslim woman of Indo-Pakistani descent. Second of all, the little attestation on the book cover by one of my favorite writers 'Khaled Hosseini'. I love immigrant stories. Especially, one that involves family history. Having devoted most of my childhood years with elders more than my peers, I am naturally inclined towards stories linked to ancestral history and all. One of my favorite pastimes during adolescence was spending limitless hours of time with my grandma (Dadi). She would trace back our paternal lineage, traverse up the family tree, detailing the lives of our ancestors as much as her brain would allow her to siphon. I used to sit on her lap (or by her side, as I grew up) utterly mesmerized by her animated stories, sometimes exaggerated, at times witty, but mostly entertaining. I beseeched her to repeat several of her tales, relishing the memories, reveling in the past. My favorite story used to be the one about my great-great-great-grandmother, who won an award in the court of a 'Chola' King for astonishing him with a delicious dessert made from 'Shikakai' (a bitter powder mainly used for washing one's hair). I still remember how I used to walk tall and proud, my head up, chest out, heart bursting with pride and happiness, for several days after. Once my thirst for the ancestral history was quenched, her stories were later confined to my dad's antics, birth stories of my uncles and aunt. Even though, no dark secrets or shocking truths were revealed during our conversations, she knew how to hold my attention very well. Having raised more than half a dozen children with a meagre income from Dada, poverty took a central stage in her anecdotes. I had been a hapless witness to hunger pangs, sufferings and misfortunes. Though I felt a little powerless over her past, I acquired knowledge, derived hope and gained strength from it. I offered her hope, a promise, a better future. My knowledge of maternal lineage is comparable enough, thanks to Nani. I was not her favorite grand-daughter, though I never held her against it. We used to talk for hours, mostly about Nana, who died even before I was born. Our conversations were held usually after lunch or nap - me sipping a hot cup of tea and munching on pakoras or biscuits while Nani reclined on the Easy-Chair, her eyes closed as she traveled back in time to a period, a place where she really belonged. Nani used to recount every single anecdote with such interesting details, I almost forgot when and where I was. She used to be very detail-oriented, having kept a daily journal all her life. I learnt much more after her death, when I perused some of her journals. Having said all this, it should not come as a surprise that I got all curious and excited from reading the blurb inside the front cover of this book.

In many ways, this novel is a story about the past, about redemption, about hope. Saira's journey to the past, her quest to know more about her lineage was very similar to mine. She acquired so much knowledge from her Big Nanima and letters and journals from her Dada. It gave her enough strength and confidence to pull her through the adverse times she was about to come across later in her life. More than Saira's own, the story is so richly detailed with many other interesting plots and sub-stories. At times, it was even a little hard to keep track of several characters that sprung out of the novel. However, it only added more interest to the story, rather than diverting the attention from it. I even drew a family tree for 'Saira', just so I could keep my pace up with the novel. My favorite character in the book was, of course, 'Saira'. She is smart, unconventional and thirsty of her past. As an aspiring journalist, Saira always had questions for everyone, especially during the bedtime story sessions with her mom. Her family was deep-rooted in culture and valued family traditions, Saira's American upbringing and career aspirations brought forth conflicts and rifts within the family. She could have chosen an conventional, relatively easy life path like her elder sister, Ameena. But, Saira was strong, carefree, independent and assertive when compared to Ameena.

Saira derived inspiration from her Big Nanima, another one of my favorite characters. Big Nanima, raised in India and Pakistan, remained a spinster, to pursue her studies in London. She worked as a college professor and spent her free time adapting English Literature for Urdu plays. She equipped Saira with enough ancestral history and encouraged her to pursue her career goals, to live a life of her own. I also liked how Big Nanima was careful enough to not push Saira too much towards her freedom and taught her to value her customs and traditions as well. Every person, if lucky enough, will have someone in their family, they look up to. For Saira, it was Big Nanima. It was always welcoming to see positive characters like that. Especially in an oppressed community, where women were mostly confined to wearing 'hijab' and serving their husbands and children at home. Big Nanima instilled so much hope and confidence in Saira. Also, her character was a big asset to the story. Her love for literature was so contagious, she brought a huge smile to my face.

With lots of intricate details added to the main plot, the story itself has enough happenings to make the readers glued to the book. When reading novels, I hate switching back too much between time periods, in general. It somehow interrupts the flow, the rhythm. When I started reading this book, I was a little concerned, since her characters lived all over the place from Los Angeles to London to Karachi. Thankfully, it did not happen here. Her writing flowed effortlessly, at a smooth pace, enabling me to keep my concentration. It was an engaging read, overall. I am sure it will certainly hold interest for anyone with an immigrant past, or second generations, who are caught between two cultures.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

Title: Sweetness in the Belly
Author: Camilla Gibb
Paperback: 368 Pages
Publisher: Penguin
Accolade: Trillium Award winner

'Sweetness in the belly' is such a fascinating novel that portrays the life and turmoil of an English-born nurse Lilly who was raised in a Sufi Shrine in Morocco. Her travels take her from Morocco to Harar to London. In an engaging story, the chapters transports the readers back and forth between her life in Ethiopia and London. Lilly's circumstances of upbringing are rather odd. Born to an English-Irish nomadic couple, Lilly accompanies them in their travels. When her parents get killed mysteriously in an alley way, Lilly comes under the loving care of 'Great Abdal', a Sufi philosopher and Bruce Mohammed, an Islamic convert and her guardian. Her life flourishes and blossoms and Lilly relishes learning about the mystical ways of Islam. She memorizes and recites verses from 'Quran' and adapts herself to the Sufi ways in no matter of time.

When a new regime in 1960's threatens the existence of shrines in Morocco, Lilly takes on a pilgrimage to Harar to seek blessings and protection for this is the city that houses the original shrine of the first Islamic muezzin Saint Bilal Al Habash. Her Islamic veil and Quran knowledge fails to mask her white skin and British accent. Labeled a 'farenji', a despised foreigner, Lilly's struggle in gaining a foothold among the Harari's. She is forced to live with Nouria, an Oromo, in a ram shackled house amongst dead cockroaches, goat feces, flies and putrid smell of urine. After much struggle, Lilly gains the affection of Nouria, by helping her with her daily chores. She does laundry, cooking vats of stew and injera, making 'berber' - a fiery cocktail made of chillies and most of all teaching Quran to children. She also witnesses some horrific events like female circumcision. She falls in love with Aziz, a doctor, who himself is an outcast with his black skin and Sudanese upbringing. His radical practices and attitude drew her towards him. Yet, their love is short-lived and the 'sweetness in the belly' is only a fleeting experience. When the Dergue regime rises to power after ousting the Emperor Haile Selassie, she is forced to flee once again to London.

The story also focuses on her post-ethiopian life in London, where she longs for a reunion with Aziz, even after 7 years of exile. She befriends Amina, another Ethiopian woman, who flees from Africa when Yusuf, her husband, was taken hostage from a camp in Kenya. Amina's story is heart-wrenching and quite extraordinary as well. As both these women begin their quest in seeking their love and regain their lost lives, they also come face to face with their sufferings, misfortunes and a troubled past. The novel takes the readers as far away as what happens to Aziz and Yusuf thus bringing the story to a perfect closure.

This book was such an engaging read for me. It was not just a story of two struggling women with a troubled past, it was more of a story of Ethiopia itself. African poverty and famine was nothing surprising to me. However, to read about the abysmal living conditions of the poor was such a heart-wrenching experience. Since I was as much a 'farenji' as Lilly, her tragic experiences horrified me. The hardest part was reading about the tribal practices of female circumcision performed on young girls as young as 5 or 6 years old. My heart ached, eyes welled and tears came streaming down my eyes. I was enraged with anger, mad with their superstitious beliefs and customs. Some of the tribal practices were barbaric, especially the infibulation. However, it was astonishing to see how they attribute everything to religion or god. It made me wonder, just like Lilly, if Quran really endorsed the practice of female circumcision. Also, I wondered how much knowledge it really imparted on the people who followed it. For all the recent wars waged in the name of 'jihad', it was illuminating to read about the true meaning of 'jihad' from Quran as an internal struggle for 'purity'.

My knowledge about Ethiopia reached greater heights after reading about many political issues like Ethiopian revolution post, life in refugee camps and prison cells, migration of people from North Africa to the more government-controlled south, deposition of Emperor Haile Selassie and Dergue campaign. Anytime I read about African stories, my heart never failed to swell with gratitude for my American life and its more modern western practices. It made it hard for me to drink my sparkling cup of water, without thinking about the murky brown water the Harari's drink or cook with. That night, my three-course dinner meals kept churning in my stomach, as I pondered about the millions of people who suffered in poverty and famine. I tossed and turned in my ultra-soft mattress, wondering how they slept in rough, patchy floors caked with dirt and mud. It all just seemed so unfair, somehow.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid

Title: Moth Smoke
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Paperback: 246 Pages
Publisher: Picador
Accolade: Betty Trask Award winner, PEN/Hemingway Finalist, NewYork Times Notable Book of the Year

Mohsin Hamid, was highly acclaimed and nominated for several literary prizes for his book 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist'. 'Moth Smoke' is his debut novel.

1998, Lahore. Pakistan had just announced its arrival in the nuclear world in retaliation to the nuclear tests conducted by Indian counterparts. Wild street jubilation broke out in the streets of Lahore, as it became not just a war between two nations, but a war among religions as well. Jobless markets, sluggish economy, political wrath and poverty grabbed and throttled the nation by its neck. In a place where uncertainty and poverty reigns, destruction and calamity took a center stage.

Set in these tough economic times, this novel, a dark and gloomy tale, so eloquently captures the tragic downfall of an ill-fated middle-class young man Darushikoh (Daru). In the opening scene, the protagonist Daru sat crouched in a prison cell having accused of murdering a little boy. Before the readers were given an opportunity to witness the proceedings, the novel back traced in time to the period where Daru began his life as a successful banker smoking occasional joints and partying with rich folks. He earned sufficient enough to afford an air-conditioner and a servant who ran errands and prepared his daily meals. Albeit his associations with the rich, he felt resentful about the chasm between the rich and poor, the corrupted political system and the economic divide that prevailed in the country.

For Daru, destruction first approached him from the workfront. He lost his banker job when he incurred the wrath of one of his valued clients. He struggled to get back into the workforce, but he lacked the right political 'connections'. All the basic privileges he was once entitled to like electricity, telephone, A/C were cut off. His addiction to hash reeled him in and plunged him into a world of complete darkness. Hope came in the form of a woman, Mumtaaz, his childhood friend Ozi's wife. Their common interests led from one thing to another ultimately leading to an extramarital affair. Unfortunately, their love led to a dispute and Mumtaaz was gone. Daru had no one but to turn to Sharad, a drug dealer who had grand plans of venturing into robbing boutiques all around Lahore. As drugs, money and sex sucked him deeper and deeper into the chasm, his doomsday was not far way. He became more of a moth that burnt into ashes when it flickered around the dazzling flames of a candlelight.

The book also presented view points of three other characters - Ozi, the flamboyant childhood friend of Daru, Ozi's wife Mumtaaz and Sharad, a dope dealer cum rickshaw driver. Ozi, Mumtaaz and Sharad played a critical role in the life and fall of Daru and their soliloquies come juxtaposed between Daru's own narration. Albeit providing a holistic view of the situation, their viewpoints made me less sympathetic and more cynical. Each character had their own flaws, unfulfilled dreams and sorrows, yet they all tried to justify their imperfections by condemning the society or political system. Mumtaaz, who claimed to have made false choices in her past, by marrying Ozi and thereby having a child she never wanted, justified her affair with Daru as a sort of respite from her stifing situation. Ozi, a money-launderer, had nothing to complain but his unloving wife. Daru, who constantly whined about the economic divide, thrashed his unpaid servant and lived off of selling hash and heroin to young school children for exorbitant amounts. To top that, he had an extramarital affair with his best friend's wife and puffed his life away into nothingness. In addition to the main story, several other short stories were embedded in them as well. Such as the harrowing tale of Dilaram, who was forced into prostitution and that of Manuucci, the servant whose kidney was stolen and thrown onto the streets. Each of these characters led a pathetic life, irrespective of their financial status. Some characters gained my sympathy, others didn't. Nevertheless, the book is a beautiful, realistic portrayal of a man who made all the wrong choices - by chance or choice.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel

Title: The Beijing of Possibilities
Author: Jonathan Tel
Paperback: 185 Pages
Publisher: Other Press

"Beijing is the center of the universe. Ask anybody who lives there. The true Beijinger secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sence, kidding".

Over the last few decades, China has witnessed a tremendous amount of growth and industrial progress, in spite of its superfluous population. Today, China is the economic hub of the world and it's strong presence in the global arena is undeniable. Every day, millions of workers migrate to the city to work in the factories under meager working conditions to manufacture and export goods worldwide. To the despairing rural folks, a life in the city offers a ray of hope, sustenance and limitless opportunities.

Indeed, Beijing is a land of dreams. A city bustling with migrant workers, foreigners, pick-pockets, street musicians, pedestrians, businessmen, beggars and whores, who all move in a frantic pace, with a heightened sense of purpose. The factories run 24/7 with its employees working in shifts. The city never sleeps. The busy roads, congested with traffic, makes the air dense with pollution and purpose. To better comprehend the city and the chaos behind it, a story needs to be told. Jonathan Tel strives to do that with not just one, but a dozen of short stories. His stories do not attempt to focus on the cultural revolution or globalization, but rather mundane, yet surprisingly little known, facades of everyday life. Even though most of the short stories in this collection are imbued with a subtle humor, they never fail to bring forth the harsh realities.

The book opens with a captivating story, the 'Year of Gorilla'. A man clad in a gorilla suit makes rounds around the city in his bicycle delivering messages for special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, promotions etc. He announces his arrival with a pumping of his chest, then singing songs, before going on about his work delivering one 'Gorillagram' after the other. One day, he witnesses a street robbery and comes to the aid of a middle-aged woman who is about to lose her purse to a bunch of mobs. He is oblivious of the fact that his heroic acts are caught on a cellular phone camera and slowly making its way to the blogosphere. Rumor spreads like a wild fire. Discussion boards springs up all over town and the issue is completely blown out of proportion.

“It is a shame that sticks-in-the-mud are opposing a market economy with Chinese characteristics. The last thing we need is to have a Gorilla barge in every time we shake hands on a deal!” Which led to further criticism, as well as some support of the Gorilla for “preserving Maoist values.” An editorial in the July issue of theBeijing Financial Review referred somewhat obscurely to “Gorillas and their ilk who shoot sparrows with a pearl” in the context of defending the opening up of the mining industry to foreign investment.

Soon, he is arrested, ridiculed and tortured by the police officials questioning his true intentions behind the rescue. Detective Wang scrolled down the Gorilla's file - pages of barely relevant stuff trawled up by a search engine. "So, Gorilla, is it true that you're opposed to the development of capitalist enterprise in China? ... The Gorilla was in the midst of a mob. some wit kept offering him a banana, another taunted him, "Where's your demon-exposing mirror, Monkey King?" He is released, owing to a lack of evidence. Needless to say, Hero Gorilla is never to be seen again. This story, a surprisingly witty composition, is an engaging read and propels the book forward to a glorious start. Though the story is peppered with humor, one cannot fail to understand that not many rural people who come to the city for a better life fulfill their dreams.

'The Book of Auspicious and Inauspicious dreams' is another entertainer about a young couple who moves into an apartment in the Haidian district of Beijing. When they decide to remodel their new place, by tearing down one of the walls, they come upon a rusty old tin containing some souvenirs from the 1960's. The story focuses on the couple's futile efforts as they seek for the owner of these rather odd treasures. The package travels to and fro between the couple and the owner who denies her inheritance. How funny when it finally disappears after stuffing it with a couple of hundred Yuan's in the tin. Money always plays a major role, Isn't it?

Another one of my favorite stories is 'The Unofficial History of Embroidered Couch'. It is witty, hilarious and so damn interesting. Imagine a super-natural match making service that hooks up a modern advertising agency writer with a princess of Ming Dynasty Princess. "A delectable shimmery lightweight bra, combining traditional elegance with the latest hi-tech uplift", he writes. Jonathan does sort of give a hi-tech uplift to the ming dynasty era as well. Though the Ming Dynasty princess lives in a castle, served by eunuchs and maids, she texts messages and takes pictures with her cell phone. Love has no boundaries, you know. When the princess feigns her ignorance on the subject of marriage and love-making, her maid "Mei draws a lavishly illustrated edition of 'The Unofficial History of the Embroidered Couch' out from under the cushion, and she explains to her mistress wha's going on, in chapter after chapter.
  • Fetching the Fire from the other side of the mountain
  • The Hungry Horse Races to the Trough
  • Snuffing the Candle
  • Releasing the Butterfly in search of fragrance
  • Letting the Bee make honey
  • Inserting the Arrow Upside Down
  • The Black Dragon Penetrates the Cave
  • Rolling the Pearl Curtain Bottom side up
  • The Lost Bird Returns to the Wood"
However, their e-love is short lived and they end up in a brawl, after a flurry of exchanging texts and photos. What could have made history as an epic-love story takes a comical twist and a more realistic ending. This story really cracked me up, as I jumped from one chapter to the other like a 'Monkey King'.

'The Three Lives of Little Yu' talks about a middle-aged couple's relentless attempts at adopting a child. Adopting a boy would be beyond their means, so they settle down for a daughter. In 1950's, female off springs are practically given away for free to orphanages or whoever wants them. Miao and Zheng adopt their first girl, 'Yu' by handing over some ration coupons worth five jin of rice. Being a weakling since birth, Yu doesn't survive past toddler hood. The couple adopt again after a decade, only to find their daughter not surviving the 'measles'. Nearly after two decades, girls were still freely given but sold for almost 30,000 Yuan's. The couple pick up their third child at a Beijing market (free of charge, I guess) praying this little 'Yu' will survive. For this despondent couple, who are now in their mid-forties, will third time be a charm? China still strictly imposes the 'One child' rule and prohibits a married couple from entering parenthood until 25. Boys are valued priceless and the fate of the girls are questionable. Adoption is not easy either. Paper works, government rules and exorbitant prices need to be taken care of. On top of that, the pain and suffering that goes with a child loss is insurmountable. This story not only focuses on the depressing aspects of a childless couple, but also is a daring attempt at uncovering the ruthless people who make their lives even more miserable.

'The Beijing of Possibilities' is another deeply touching vignette about a young village girl who obtains a Beijing work permit by agreeing to be a foster mother to a native Beijinger couple. The baby dies prematurely and the girl devoid of hope arrives at the big city to make her ends meet. Working for a telemarketing company as a mail lady, she realizes that the city life is not that promising after all. During one of her usual mail runs, she slips over the ledge of a three-storied building. She lands in a heap of snow and walks unnoticed in a city bustling with people. For life has to move on, no matter what.

"Who can believe in Beijing? Only those who've never been and those who've left; it comes to life in imagination and memory. The smell of Beijing? Smog. Dust. Her sinuses are affected; she has lost that sense. The taste of Beijing? She eats rice three times a day, drinks tea, not much else. The touch of Beijing? Outside boutiques, there are women (immigrants like herself, she assumes) hired to clap, to attract customers. Day and night, sun and rain and snow, the clapping goes on."

I have several more favorites in this collection that I wish I could elaborate. Like the story of a bunch of pick-pocketers from 'The Glamorous Heart of Cosmopolitan Beijing' or the life of a factory-worker who suddenly had to switch working from day to night time shift in 'Santo Domingo'. I purposely left it to the readers to delve into these gems, as I didn't want to give away too much. These little vignettes are highly entertaining, easily readable and a realistic portrait of the modern day Beijing. From Ming Dynasty to Monkey Man, pick-pocketers to street musicians, the stories have something to offer for every curious western reader!

Last but not the least, the book brought back endless memories of our trip to Beijing several years ago. It was such a beautiful and relaxing place to visit when compared to the more polluted, cosmopolitan city of Shanghai. Some people might enjoy the hustle and bustle of city life. Not me. Being the land of 'Forbidden City', where almost 7 sections of the 'Great Wall' that pass close by, Beijing offers more than a century worth of history, picturesque views and a refreshing air. This book will delightfully take you on a tour of Beijing, if not the great walls, at least through the great streets of Beijing. Don't miss.