Guy Delisle's SHENZHEN
Book review by Dennis D. McDonald
Have you ever worked by yourself for an extended period of time in a foreign country? If so, you’ll recognize a lot of what author Delisle writes about in Shenzhen.
In 1997 he stayed 3 months in Shenzhen, China while he managed an animation crew for his French employer. At that time the difference between Shenzhen and nearby Hong Kong was like the difference between night and day. Where Shenzhen was gritty and grim, Hong Kong was bright and lively.
What sets this book about his experiences apart from his North Korean illustrated adventure PYONGYANG — aside from the fact that China is not North Korea — is that here he is able to get “out and about” where his observational powers (and wry sense of humor) come to play. His Western eyes register small details of cultural differences in ways that someone visiting as a tourist may fail to notice.
Boredom and loneliness. He expresses them well here. Occasionally there does emerge a glimmer of human tenderness, but not that often. The atmosphere is totally different from his book BURMA CHRONICLES where he spent time with his family in a relatively comfortable living situation. Here he’s stuck in a hotel room for 3 months and after a while that gets to him. He expresses that well. But as a gifted artist and a sensitive observer he’s consistently entertaining.
This book in some ways may also serve as a historical document, too. Is life in Shenzhen the same as it was in 1997? Maybe not. It would be interesting to compare now with then. But I doubt that Delisle would want to spend another three months like he describes in this book.
Review copyright (c) 2010 by Dennis D. McDonald