“The Street of Eternal Happiness” by Rob Schmitz
Release Date: May 11, 2016
Genre: Non-fiction, History, Culture
Page Length: 336 pages (electronic review copy)
Modern Shanghai: a global city in the midst of a renaissance, where dreamers arrive each day to partake in a mad torrent of capital, ideas, and opportunity. Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz is one of them. He immerses himself in his neighborhood, forging deep relationships with ordinary people who see in the city’s sleek skyline a brighter future, and a chance to rewrite their destinies. There’s Zhao, whose path from factory floor to shopkeeper is sidetracked by her desperate measures to ensure a better future for her sons. Down the street lives Auntie Fu, a fervent capitalist forever trying to improve herself with religion and get-rich-quick schemes while keeping her skeptical husband at bay. Up a flight of stairs, musician and café owner CK sets up shop to attract young dreamers like himself, but learns he’s searching for something more. As Schmitz becomes more involved in their lives, he makes surprising discoveries which untangle the complexities of modern China: A mysterious box of letters that serve as a portal to a family’s – and country’s – dark past, and an abandoned neighborhood where fates have been violently altered by unchecked power and greed.
A tale of 21st century China, Street of Eternal Happiness profiles China’s distinct generations through multifaceted characters who illuminate an enlightening, humorous, and at times heartrending journey along the winding road to the Chinese Dream. Each story adds another layer of humanity and texture to modern China, a tapestry also woven with Schmitz’s insight as a foreign correspondent. The result is an intimate and surprising portrait that dispenses with the tired stereotypes of a country we think we know, immersing us instead in the vivid stories of the people who make up one of the world’s most captivating cities. (description from Goodreads)
The Street of Eternal Happiness provides its readers of various snapshots in 21st China. The writer and the narrator of our novel tells the stories of different people from all walks of life while giving a detailed background of Chinese history and events.
To be honest, sometimes I felt a bit overwhelmed while reading this book. Far too much information, in too little time was being thrown at me. While I was trying to focus on the stories of the people Schmitz profiles in his book, I felt like all these events in Chinese history and etc. were being force-fed to me. This problem doesn’t occur in every single chapter of the book, but I still felt this caused the writing to feel a bit disjointed at times.
I appreciated that Schmitz puts a lot of effort in telling the “Street of Eternal Happiness” residents’ stories. He manages to translate their tales very well, especially since he speaks Chinese, and lets the readers hear their own voices. From the story of CK who overcomes many obstacles, to Old Chen’s constant fight for his home at Maggie Lane which has virtually been destroyed, and even Zhao who builds her own business to provide for her two sons, all of the people in the book manage to find some happiness in their life. The main theme that comes across is that you can find happiness in the smallest of places.
I also learned more about China through reading this book. It delves into the issue of China’s rigid structure and how that it’s a country that wants to advance, but doesn’t want to dispose of its old foundations. Some of the many things I thought that were interesting was the practice of “hukou” which ties Chinese families to their hometown, the concept of “gaokao” where if one studies hard enough they take control of their family’s destiny, and the history of migrant workers. The book manages to teach readers about many aspects of Chinese culture that they might be unfamiliar with.
Overall, this is quite a heavy book. I thought it would be a bit more lighthearted, but I guess I should have paid more attention its synopsis. I wasn’t in the reading mood for a heavy themed book so at the time I read this I think I couldn’t enjoy this book as much as I wanted to. But it is still was an intriguing and informative read.
If you enjoy non-fiction, love learning about other cultures, and want to get an inside look at China from all walks of life I would recommend this book.
FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from First to Read in exchange for a fair and honest review.