Shenzhen Paperback – Mar 22 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
Last year's Pyongyang introduced Delisle's acute voice, as he reported from North Korea with unusual insight and wit, not to mention wonderfully detailed cartooning. Shenzhen is not a follow-up so much as another installment in what one hopes is an ongoing series of travelogues by this talented artist. Here he again finds himself working on an animated movie in a Communist country, this time in Shenzhen, an isolated city in southern China. Delisle not only takes readers through his daily routine, but also explores Chinese custom and geography, eloquently explaining the cultural differences city to city, company to company and person to person. He also goes into detail about the food and entertainment of the region as well as animation in general and his own career path. All of this is the result of his intense isolation for three months in an anonymous hotel room. He has little to do but ruminate on his surroundings, and readers are the lucky beneficiaries of his loneliness. As in his earlier work, Delisle draws in a gentle cartoon style: his observations are grounded in realism, but his figures are light cartoons, giving the book, as Delisle himself remarks, a feeling of an alternative Tintin. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Delisle's Pyongyang (2005) documented two months spent overseeing cartoon production in North Korea's capital. Now he recounts a 1997 stint in the Chinese boomtown Shenzhen. Even a decade ago, China showed signs of Westernization, at least in Special Economic Zones such as Shenzhen, where Delisle found a Hard Rock Cafe and a Gold's Gym. Still, he experienced near-constant alienation. The absence of other Westerners and bilingual Chinese left him unable to ask about baffling cultural differences ranging from exotic shops to the pervasive lack of sanitation. Because China is an authoritarian, not totalitarian, state, and Delisle escaped the oppressive atmosphere with a getaway to nearby Hong Kong, whose relative familiarity gave him "reverse culture shock," Delisle's wittily empathetic depiction of the Western-Chinese cultural gap is less dramatic than that of his Korean sojourn. That said, his creative skill suggests that the comic strip is the ideal medium for such an account. His wry drawings and clever storytelling convey his experiences far more effectively than one imagines a travel journal or film documentary would. Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Delisle has been sent to Shenzhen to replace the outgoing director of an animation studio. The former director couldn't handle the Chinese way of doing (or not doing) things and left after eight months. While I can't compare Shenzhen to Pyongyang for its laugh content, I did get a funnier read out of it when compared to Burma Chronicles. It doesn't help Delisle in the least that he can barely communicate with the very people he is supposed to direct, and that his on-site translator is hardly any help. Once Delisle steps outside he is accosted by Chinese English students who are eager to practise yet can barely make themselves coherent. The only respite is a side trip to Hong Kong where English is everywhere.
The funniest part of Shenzhen was Delisle's attempt to teach his animators the correct way to draw pupils so that figures don't look cross-eyed. Alone in the studio, Delisle moans "Oh man! They've rubbed holes into some of the pages with all that erasing."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"Shenzhen" by no means, was the author's first book of its kind, and the predecessor to "Pyongyang". In thisblack-and-white graphic novel, Delisle chronicles his stay in the province of Shenzhen, a region near other major cities in communist China, and the more liberal nations Hong Kong and Taiwan. Personally, I had high expectations for this book despite the somewhat mediocre reviews already up on Amazon. I bought it together with "Burma Chronicles" and read it as soon as it was shipped to me from America. As my first review on Amazon, it saddens me to give this book a 2 out of 5 stars.
First of all, I must compare "Shenzhen" to Delisle's "Pyongyang", because expectations precedes my opinion of the book here. Where "Pyongyang" succeeded as a highly-intelligent, witty, satirical and insightful graphic novel (which this comic genre rarely does) about the absurdities of North Korean life under the dictatorship of Kim Jong-Il, "Shenzhen" does little to inform, to humour, or to intrigue the readers much. Delisle's Shenzhen travelogue merely focuses on his personal boredom, alienated state of being as a foreigner whom knows nothing about the Chinese culture and way of life as he does his job as an animator consultant in an outsourced studio (which does animation series for TV). Through his drawings, narrative boxes and speech bubbles, we are brought into a totally new environment of China and the way of life of the Chinese people as Delisle interacts with his people from various businesses, from strangers, as well as fellow colleagues, along with translators helping and following his footsteps. However, this merely brings us a glimpse into the China culture through a foreigner's eyes, from how some Chinese food is revolting to him, to how a public toilet (arranged in 2 columns of squats with no form of barriers at all) ludicrously resembles an altar of sorts. Personally, most of these "glimpses" are interesting, though trivial. They aren't really superficial per se, but it all seems too spontaneous, and at times frivolous. At one moment in the book, Delisle himself even admits that "[he] keep[s] at [writing] without real conviction. Going in circles in a hotel room, even if it is in China, doesn't seem like the kind of trip anybody would want to read about." First of all, although he may be plain honest about his disparate connection with the Chinese' way of life here, but to admitting it would nonetheless be disengaging himself with the enticing readers. Secondly, Delisle deviates from the main setting of his story as he makes occasional trips to Canton (Guangzhou) and Hong Kong. Instead of making explicit, tangible comparisons between these supposedly more democratic and liberal nations with China, he bragged about how bored he was in Shenzhen and makes flippant comments and jokes about how he enjoyed his shopping spree in Hong Kong.
There are no specific chapter divides in "Shenzhen", except each segment begins with a full-page, realistically rendered drawing of some random building or skyscraper under construction, before moving on to his different sojourns and trips to various locales in Shenzhen. As compared to Delisle's follow-up "Pyongyang", which details much more about the draconian, authoritative control that is exerted on the North Korean people, from the robbing of their liberty, to the disparate class of wealth between the elites and peasants in the communist nation, "Shenzhen" does nothing significant of this sort. Like "Shenzhen", every chapter in "Pyongyang" begins with a full-paged drawing of places/monuments (such as the Juche Tower or the emblem of the Marxist-Communist party), but it further serves the purpose of revealing, one after another, interesting facets of the plight of the N. Korean people and its deplorable culture and practices. Again, "Shenzhen" does nothing of this sort.
The drawings in "Shenzhen" are mostly etched with charcoal, along with other varied styles such as ink or scanned pictures from real sources to represent different times and situations. Most of the charcoal drawings however appear somewhat skimpy and sparse, and often messy, which is inherently different from "Pyongyang", which is more clean, neat, consistent and candid. Perhaps, this adds to Delisle's treatment of the city as one that is blighted or heavily polluted.
As a Singaporean Chinese (not China-Chinese) who knows how to speak Mandarin, also, it is somewhat offensive for Chinese readers like me to detect the incongruity in the speech bubbles of the Chinese characters depicted in his book. Delisle, to his convenience, chose to inscribe nonsensically-pieced words picked from god-knows-what passages that absolutely make no meaning at all, at least to readers who knows Chinese. To English and other foreign readers, this is an otherwise trivial note, and one which adds to the obliviousness of Delisle's experience in China and his blatant disregard for the Chinese audience and language.
In short, "Shenzhen" offers a fresh but limited perspective of life as a foreigner in China. For this reason, along with an identical price tag to the successful book "Pyongyang", I had expected more from Delisle, and was highly disappointed in the end. I hope his latest work "Burma Chronicles" does more, like "Pyongyang", to reveal more interesting facets of life and culture under authoritative regimes, and not fall into the trap of bemoaning about his boredom or alienation, or detail flippant activities and non-enticing monologues.
There is a big issue right off the bat with SHENZHEN. No doubt many were first introduced to Delisle through PYONGYANG and, the fact is, Shenzhen China simply is not as interesting a place. Pyongyang, after all, is the capital city of the most psychotic and paranoid regime on the planet, where propoganda about the country's leader is a constant companion. There is nothing similar in Shenzhen and, indeed, the single biggest feeling of the book is isolation and boredom. Although the reader can appreciate those feelings through Delisle's writing and drawings, it produces a far different, and less interesting book.
Let us keep in mind, though, that this is a graphic novel. It is not like one needs the same amount of time to get through it as, say, WAR AND PEACE. The book is light-hearted, interesting (even if less so than his previous book) and provides Westerners a quick snapshot into a foreign culture that most of us will not experience firsthand. Is SHENZHEN worth the time one will actually expend on the book? Sure.
That said...it gets 3 stars still as I think it is worth a read and worth even a chuckle or two... but definitely do not read this as an introduction to China or its culture! Note that I am not saying that anything Guy said is false. It might be a 100% perfect reflection of how life goes on in the city but the problem I had was with the sarcasm (covert mostly but sometimes not so tacit) inherent in the way he deals with these surprises. Also, not to say I wouldn't be pained or hassled by some of these aspects that trouble him myself -- in fact, he is quite enterprising in trying some of the more exotic foods, etc.