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Apr 15

Review: Beijing Tai Tai by Tania McCartney

I received this book for free from ARC received from publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Beijing Tai Tai by Tania McCartneyBeijing Tai Tai by Tania McCartney
Published by Exisle Publishing on 05-02-2012
Genres: memoir, non-fiction
Pages: 260
Source: ARC received from publisher
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When Tania McCartney discovered she’d be moving her husband, self and two kids under the age of five to China for four years, she was 95 per cent horrified. What she never expected was to fall in love. Beijing seeped under her skin and grabbed hold of her heart … a love affair that inspired 'Beijing Tai Tai', a collection of shrewdly observed, heartfelt and humorous insights into Beijing expatriate life. Intensely personal, at times a little controversial, 'Beijing Tai Tai' is a rollercoaster ride of honesty and openness as a wife (tai tai) and mother juggles suburban family life in urban Beijing. Presented in a series of love/hate column-like snippets — on topics ranging from the consumption of bull testicles to the life-altering experience of walking the Great Wall — it exposes expatriate life in a country on the brink of great change. From tragic hair moments and bustling silk markets to China’s quest to stay true to its ancient origins, 'Beijing Tai Tai' is a book for anyone interested in this diverse and culturally rich country. It’s for anyone, from anywhere, who knows what it’s like to fall in love, explore new worlds and live with challenges. It’s about life in a city full of soaring highs and disconsolate lows — but never anything less than remarkable.

I’m not in general a big fan of autobiographies, biographies and memoirs. My hesitation comes, perhaps, from a fear that I will find that I have nothing in common with the person in question – no point of contact or common interest that will enable me to relate their experiences to my own in some way. Reading about the life and experiences of a complete stranger holds little fascination.

I have followed author Tania McCartney’s blog for some time and have reviewed her Riley the Little Aviator travelogue picture books. I also write for Kids Book Review, a children and YA book review website started by Tania. We’ve emailed, talked on the phone and even met in person twice, so I wasn’t concerned about not having a point of connection when I started reading Beijing Tai Tai. I did wonder, however, whether I would be able to relate to Tania’s experience of living in Beijing for four years with her husband and two young children and whether I could relate to the challenges  she faced as an Australian parent in China compared with my own experiences as a suburban Australian mother who has never had any significant exposure to Asian culture.

My fears were unfounded, as the experiences Tania shares are fundamentally those common to most mothers – a desire for her children to live secure yet challenging and enriched lives, an enjoyment of simple family rituals and celebrations, a fondness for good food and great shopping and the desire to be more than simply a mother and wife.

Tania’s style is warm and inclusive, reading in a manner reminiscent of blog entries rather than a personal journal or diary. There is great humour and an appreciation of the absurd in some entries while others offer insight into some of the deeper, more personal struggles of balancing between two cultures.

With intelligence and humour, Tania invites readers to share her experiences in China – forays into the Silk Markets and shopping districts, dinner and dancing on the Great Wall of China, dealing with her troublesome ayi (housekeeper) and the everyday joys and frustrations of Beijing life. Some days she vents her frustrations, other days she bubbles over with enthusiasm.

At the conclusion of Beijing Tai Tai I was left with the impression that Tania McCartney is someone I would like to know better. Her fascination with the world around her, her intelligent observations, her passion for her family and new experiences – all these things combine to create an image of a talented, interesting, intelligent and thoughtful woman with a fascinating story to share.

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