Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Review: The Natural Laws of Good Luck by Ellen Graf

by Ellen Graf
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Trumpeter (August 4, 2009)
ISBN-13: 9781590306918
Genre: Nonfiction
Rating: 2.75/5

The quirky and funny story of a woman in upstate New York who marries a man from China whom she barely knows. They don’t share a language or a culture, but together they discover what matters most—a story of taking risks, culture clash, and the journey to real love.

Ellen was lonely and having no luck with personal ads when her Chinese girlfriend suggested that she meet Zhong-Hua, her brother in northern China. Ellen soon finds herself going to Beijing to meet him, and although they speak only a few words of each other’s language, they decide to get married.

Ellen and Zhong-Hua settle at Ellen’s farmhouse in upstate New York where they face a host of challenges, including the language barrier, financial problems, and profound cultural differences. When Ellen tries to teach Zhong-Hua to drive, explaining to him the concept of right-of-way and the meaning of a red light, he cheerfully replies, “I don’t think so,” and develops his own free-form, heart-stopping style of driving. A character worthy of first-rate fiction, Zhong-Hua rarely fails to surprise and entertain us, whether by his driving style, his culinary tastes (Ellen must learn to appreciate rock fungus, among other unusual delicacies), and his creative low-budget home maintenance solutions (who knew that concrete had so many uses?).

If you've read this blog for very long you know I read a lot of non-fiction, mostly memoirs. For the most part, I really enjoy them. I enjoy learning about other people lives and experiences, especially from other cultures. So, The Natural Laws of Good Luck sounded like a wonderful book, but it didn't quite deliver like I'd expected.

Zhong-Hua was a kick. I admired his courage in coming to an unknown country without knowing the language or customs. And, as you'd expect, this brought about some funny and unexpected stories. I particularly liked the parts about the differences between the cultures and how misunderstandings could easily come about because of it.

What I found a little lacking was the writing. Maybe the style just didn't work for me, but I found it a bit unfocused and rambling at times. I also prefer memoirs, for the most part, to be in chronological order. Natural Laws was close, but there were also some tangents that I couldn't tell where exactly they fit. This is a fairly short book but it took me well over a week to finish. All of the tangents in the story just didn't hold my attention.

If you are interested in other cultures, especially Chinese, I would recommend The Natural Laws of Good Luck. Otherwise, I'd say get it from the library instead of buying it. 2.75 stars

1 comment:

Zibilee said...

The premise sounds interesting, as do some of the snippets that you posted, but I am not sure I would take a chance on a book with such a rambling style. I might try to request a copy from the library, that way if it doesn't work for me, no harm's been done. Thanks for your honest thoughts on this one.