Mark Salzman

Overall Rating: 6
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Author: Mark Salzman
Title: Iron & Silk
Time: 1982-84
Destination: China
Length: two years
Type: English teaching stay

Karate Kid in China

The story: MS is an American university graduate who decides to move to the People’s Republic of China for two years. His plan is to teach English and pick up some Wushu skills right at the source. He ends up in Changsha, and, being one of the few foreigners in town, is received with great welcome by the population. He ends up getting taught by several martial artists of great renown, and when he returns home, he has made many friends, learned many moves, practiced many pen strokes and obtained many insights.

Mark Salzman’s short stories

There is not so much of an evolving storyline in this book, instead it rather seems like a collection of short stories – most of the chapters have their own theme, and many wrap up with a neat little twist at the end. MS tells us about his students and his teachers, about the people around him, about bureaucracy and about the little things in the life of a young American in the South of China during the early 1980s.


So we could say it’s a rather personal book. But is it really?

Actually, we get to hear quite a bit about MS’s different interactions with China. Many of these interactions seem to revolve around “learning” though. MS learns about martial arts (most of the time), MS learns about calligraphy (some of the time), MS learns about China (all the time). There is nothing wrong with this, in fact it makes for an interesting book. But to me, there was something missing, something that was only hinted at in a few places – MS’s personal feelings. During the two years of his stay, does he have any deep affections for anyone? Does he feel lonely? Is there any inner conflict?

read if you like martial arts

I gave this book a six out of ten. Maybe a seven. I liked the humor and the style of writing, and some of the insights were actually pretty enjoyable. But the focus on martial arts was too strong for my taste, and I found the “short story” style of the book to be a bit tiring.

It seemed as though there could have been more to this book.

A 6/10.

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