CBR Bingo 12 – The Roaring 20s.
A 1955 novel by John Hersey, who is most well known for his small book Hiroshima, a nonfiction accounting of the atomic bombing and for his Pulitzer prize winning novel, A Bell for Adano, this book follows a young American engineer on a boat moving up the Yangtze en route to a job. So Hersey was born and grew up in China, and part of this book seems to be a kind of reckoning with that childhood, but also maybe a response to the books of Pearl Buck, who also worked as a China-situated American writer. There’s a funny kind of lie in the opening pages about the young man not knowing about the seasonal flooding of the Yangtze, which Hersey certainly would have known about from his childhood and many of his readers would too from reading Buck’s The Good Earth. This novel is focused on the kind of self-centeredness (but not selfishness) of young men and especially young Americans. It’s also a kind of salve against the very arrogant American evangelism of something like The Ugly American. So we follow the voyage upriver as the young American gloms onto the English-speaking daughter of the ship’s captain. He begins to recognize the ways in which the huge regional influence of the river, the largeness of nature, and the differences in language and culture, as well as the inherent dangers of living have been hidden from him. This is not a white savior book or an Eastern salvation book. It’s a book about coming to terms with a reality that you’ve never understood or realized existed book.