Friday, September 13, 2013

UNSAVORY ELEMENTS edited by Tom Carter


An anthology of non-fiction by foreigners living in China.


Unsavory Elements features a diverse selection of stories about what it's like to live in China as a foreigner. All sorts of people move to China, though the balance of this particular collection tipped toward young, unattached males (at least when their unsavory adventures took place). The writers illustrate moments that will likely resonate with many: being offered large amounts of money to write someone's college admissions essay; finding unexpected camaraderie with locals through sports, drinks and food; getting lost; finding love. In truth, most of the writers are not especially unsavory. This collection could actually debunk a myth or two about expats in China. Most of them are just normal people navigating normal life issues in somewhat abnormal circumstances.

Naturally, some of the stories are better than others--or at least I connect with some more than others. Particular standouts for me were the contributions by Aminta Arrington, Michael Levy and, of course, Peter Hessler. The collection includes stories by two writers, Jocelyn Eikenburg and Kaitlin Solimine, who will also appear in the forthcoming expat women in Asia anthology I am editing for Signal 8 Press. Most of the writers have books out or in the works. Unsavory Elements is a terrific way to sample their writing style so you'll know what to buy next time you're in the China section of your local bookstore/Amazon.

I read Unsavory Elements while I was compiling the final manuscript of my own anthology. It was useful to see how editor Tom Carter (of China: Portrait of a People fame) decided to organize the stories. The collection progresses much like the life cycle of an expat, from arrivals and first impressions to deciding to go home--or stay. I particularly appreciated how he'd often pair stories, so that one tale would be met with a contrasting impression of a related event. For example, one person receives special treatment as a foreigner in one story, whereas the next experiences negative discrimination. The give-and-take of the structure reminded me of the constant search for balance that expats experience, both in China and abroad.


Unsavory Elements has an active Facebook page.


I bought the paperback at the Hong Kong launch event (I tried to insert a picture from the launch, but Blogger isn't cooperating; here are some random pictures from Shanghai instead). The Kindle edition is $14.40, making it only slightly cheaper than the paperback.


What do you think about collections that deal with the "foreigner's experience" in China and other expat hotbeds? Do you think they reinforce division and stereotypes? Enhance understanding? Both?


  1. Thank you, Shannon. Much obliged!

  2. I think it's going to be a good read. I don't have kindle though, hope to stumble upon this book on our local bookstores.


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