The stories of the personal histories of these five people pull the reader into their lives and into Pomfret's with enormous impact. It's difficult to stay detached from the sufferings and dilemmas of people you know. You get to know these people.
Pomfret was at Tianenmen for the event that shook the west more profoundly than much of the history leading up to it, if only because of the ubiquity of television. Finally, authorities ejected this brash American. He was to return to find a new look in China, but only a bit beneath the surface changes. Irony plays a large part in the history of the huge numbers of this beleaguered people, and the onset of what we like to call Capitalism is part of that. It isn't the sort of capitalism to which we are accustomed, and it has made changes only in a single layer of Chinese society.
In a delicious poetic irony, John returns to China, still with the idea of penetrating to Tibet. For his guide, he is introduced to a Harvard graduate with perfect English. No surprise that she becomes his wife. By the end of the story, they meet some of the men and a woman who were classmates in 1981 in Nanjing.
What remains uppermost in mind after finishing this astonishing and entertaining tale is how discouraging it is. Fortunately, John Pomfret is an artist with words, an honest, humorous, humble observer with unfeigned affection for China and the Chinese, so the book reads like bestselling fiction. It isn't. The outlook is so murky that it's hard to feel there is a real possibility of the kind of rapport the world needs so desperately. The government is still hobbled by ignorance, anachronism, and corruption in spite of the explosion of manufacturing, popular western culture, and the surge of wealth in selective parts of this enormous society. As a whole, China and its people haven't come close to recovery from the upheavals of the last couple of centuries that destroyed religion, scholarship, reverence for tradition, and any respect for the individual in any circumstances.
The last word probably should be that if there is hope for the true dawning of a new day, it resides in the individual intelligence and it might be called "innocence" of the people. The impression of innate courtesy, hospitality, and ingenuousness is a tacit thread in this story.
For what can't be called a "painless" series of lessons but is a bearable one, this book is highly recommended as a short course that everyone facing eastward needs to take to heart.
HEARTBEAT FOR HORSES
by Laura Chester; Photographed by Donna Demari
Published by Willow Creek Press; Hardcover, 189 pp, ©2007
This handsome volume will speak to anybody who has ever loved horses, either in reality or in literature. Most certainly it will be admired by adolescent or pre-adolescent girls of the “horse-crazy” persuasion.Heartbeat For Horses is a compilation of poems, essays, and excerpts selected by Ms. Chester, with accompanying photos by Ms. Demari that celebrate the special bond between young girls and horses. Having been one of those “horse-crazy” girls (long years ago), it would be fair to question this reviewer’s impartiality, but the selections and photographs will speak to young and old alike. Chester has chosen pieces from lesser-known writers as well as such well-known authors as Michael Korda, Enid Bagnold, Kate Seredy, Bret Harte, Owen Wister, Will James, Charles Dickens, and even Teddy Roosevelt, to name just a few. Poets include both famous (e.e. cummings and Ted Hughes) and the not-so-well-known. As in any collection, the writing is uneven in quality, but the focus (horses, horses, horses) remains dominant. I did note that the presentation would have benefited from a good proofreader, as there are simple errors scattered throughout: “wile away an afternoon” instead of “while away...” or “pummel” for “pommel,” or the misspelling of “Mr. Thoroughgood” as “Thoroughbood” in the excerpt from Black Beauty. Given the target audience, it seems to me that strict attention to spelling and vocabulary is more important than ever. But — if you have a connection to a girl who loves horses, you may want to point her to this book. I reckon she’ll love it.
© 2008 Joan L. Cannon and Julia Sneden for SeniorWomen.com