The River at the Centre of the World

by Simon Winchester

First of all, the way I came across this book was something of, if not a miracle, an amazing serendipity.

I learnt of this book at a swap on Book Obsessed, and decided to wishlist it. However, on Bookmooch, I guess I clicked on I HAVE IT instead of I WANT IT, so the next thing I know, another moocher requested the book.  How embarassing to have to reject the request and explain the situation.

Then, a few hours later, I was volunteering at the library, packing donated books for the booksale, when a sorter came by and put down a book with the comment, hmm, this one looks interesting. And it’s The River at the Centre of the World!! Unbelievable!  What’s more, I am in charge of paperback fiction, and this book technically belongs to travel. If she had routed it to the correct box I may never have seen it.

The moment I decided I like this book came when I read the writer’s observations in Shanghai.  He saw a Chinese navy ship, and commented on how leisurely the navy walked around on board, with lines of clothes hung to dry… and in general how it seemed inconceivable that China would militarily threaten the world.  He then went on to say that, Chinese afterall invented gun power, but did not put it to much use except for fireworks.  I went aha, that is exactly what I always thought.  Chinese people invented gun power but are now known in the world for making firework displays.  They put out a big envoy of navy, went all the way to Africa, and brought back…giraffe!!!  Not to say that Chinese are exactly a peace loving, gentle breed, but then for the record, over the long historical timeline, they did not invade Japan, their close neighbor, but Japan set her troops onto the country during WWII.

The writer has keen observations, and I like his stance that he neither looked down nor worshipped the country he visited.  The exchange between him, a gentleman from the Royal British Empire, and his companion Lily, a woman grew up on Chinese communist ideology, while heated at times, proves interesting and contrasting. 

Very well researched, entertaining and informative.  I love this book a lot.

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Published in: on October 8, 2007 at 3:14 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Glad to hear your review of this – I’ve tossed it up on a few occasions but haven’t read it yet.


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