Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More Praise for Joe Bennett's WHERE UNDERPANTS COME FROM

Foreword Magazine reviews Joe Bennett's rollicking and informative tour through China in Where Underpants Come From?

"What do we know about China, the enormous nation that will most likely dominate the next century? Already most of us are clothed by China, shod by China, supplied with hardware by China, effectively in debt to China. And yet most of us know very little about China, the author writes. With this query in mind, and a new $2.99 pair of mens underpants in hand, Joe Bennett sets out to learn about world trade by finding the origins of his made-in-China knickers . . . Often, the book's ostensible purpose-mapping the path from the manufacture to the shipping of a pair of mens shorts-is merely a vehicle for Bennetts detailed descriptions of people and places. The chaotic traffic, the chess and spitting in the park, chopstick lessons in a restaurant-Bennett brings China to the page. No detail escapes his attention or his wry humor: In the communal dining room a much older woman squats in the corner like a refugee. She is shaving vegetables over a blue plastic bucket with a cleaver that would bring gasps from a jury. As the book progresses, not one but three cultural gulfs emerge. The first is the vast lack of knowledge the average Westerner has about the Middle Kingdom and the resulting Chinese xenophobia. The second is no less sobering: the communication barriers between the average Joe and the huge corporations that dream up, order, manufacture, and transport all of our stuff. The third is the tension between the Uighurs of northwest China and the ruling Chinese.

This is a richly written book; Bennett threads his narrative through detailed description of his surroundings and concise, and at times, refreshingly frank accounts of Chinese history and political and economic development. He shows us heedless taxi drivers, giggling waitresses, and Swiss businessmen eager to make their fortunes. The history of Chinese writing, corruption, the odd gathering of expatriates, the mass migration of the Chinese out of rural provinces and into cities, and the pollution that hangs over everything-its all here. . . By turns philosophical and hilarious, Bennett keeps moving toward a hopeful conclusion about the meaning of his experience: Everything I have ever heard or read about this country stressed its difference. But a few trivial merry minutes in a middle-of-the-road restaurant on a damp Wednesday evening in Shanghai have stressed its similarity. These people are people. What's more they are easy-going people, people who like to laugh and people who dont consider a restaurant meal to be an exercise in isolation, formality or social pretension. While the Chinese have good reason to mistrust foreigners, Bennett believes that continued trade will continue to break down barriers between people. With Bennett as our guide, and with the benefit of his ability to map the humor and humanity of any situation, we are in good hands."

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