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Rod Mackenzie

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Did Argus reviewer Bianca Capazorio actually read my book Cracking China?

Initially anyone would have at least a small twinge of misgiving about a review when the reviewer does not bother even getting the author’s surname correct. This was my first small qualm that Bianca Capazorio, as gleaned from her review of my book in the Cape Argus, had either skimmed my book Cracking China or read it with a very jaundiced, selective eye.

Capazorio says the following about my experience of Chinese food: “I was astounded that he [the author] didn’t like most Chinese food as, having been back in South Africa for some time since my own trip, I still wake up some mornings with my mouth watering after a particularly tantalising ‘dream dinner’”.

This is nonsense for more than one reason. In many instances in the memoir I show my appreciation of certain mainland Chinese cuisines. In chapter thirteen I talk about the food served up by the Head of English Department’s wife at their home where they kindly treated us for lunch: “We were soon invited to Wei Linghu’s home for the most delicious lunch of baozi (dumplings) we have ever eaten. It was freshly prepared by his wife with the flour still on her hands and cheek. I devoured at least a dozen and the Chook [my wife] was not far behind. Restaurant dumplings paled by comparison”.

In chapter fourteen I talk about “the tasty braised beef and noodles flavoured with a piquant garlic and coriander sauce” served up at Davy’s restaurant, a place which served both samples of Korean and Chinese food. Sure I talked about the clownish bad service, meals never arriving or the wrong one arriving, and Davy’s unsavoury reports about his cooks. Further, I mention that some of the menu items, including “large intestines with bean curd”, “bullfrogs” and “seafood custard”, did not appeal to us at all. But, as related in that chapter, we kept going back to Davy’s because the food we did have was amazing.

In other places, such as my visits to the cities of Shaoxing and Suzhou I describe how much I enjoy Hunan and Sichuan Chinese cuisine, both of which are very spicy and hot, which I love. Yes, there were foods we did not lik,e the thought of such as chicken’s feet and heads, which is something most westerners, certainly South Africans, do not eat.

The other bit of nonsense is Capazorio’s sweeping statement about Chinese cuisine. She makes it sound like there is just one. Codswallop. (If she was aware there was more than one style of cuisine she should have made this clear; I make it clear in my book.)There are dozens of very different varieties in China, varying from province to province and even from city to city. Shanghai people love sweet cuisine (as I do) but dislike the more bitter food to be found in Shaoxing and further north. In turn, Beijing people are known to dislike the “sweet” Shanghaiese food.

So which book has Bianca Capazorio read? It doesn’t appear to be Cracking China.

As Capazorio has got my taste for Chinese food horribly wrong, I invite the reader to consider that this is a strong indication she has got a lot else wrong about Cracking China in her review, titled “Author’s superiority complex leaves China smashed”. Now Capazorio may not have come up with that hilarious title. When I was a book reviewer, I was peeved by how editors simply changed my headings without even asking me, thus skewing the contents of my review. But it is most interesting to see Capazorio feels I have a superiority complex when dealing with mainland Chinese, whilst Julia Denny-Dimitrou, in her review for The Witness, avers that the Chinese have the superiority complex. (Both reviewers have been to China.) Which reviewer is correct? Well, who has the “superiority complex” is up to the reader to decide, or to acknowledge a third option.

It is said that it is “not the done thing” for an author to engage with a reviewer of his book. Notice the passive structure of the previous sentence. There is no agency. Nobody knows who came up with that tradition. Anyway, my criticism of Capazorio’s review is with a glaring factual error, not with her opinion of my book.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    May 7th, 2010 @17:21 #
     
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    Eina, Rod, sticks are NEVER fun. The Argus link is one of those poxy You Must Pay To Enter Here ones, so I can't read the review, so can only say that unless you've actually been defamed (as I once was in a review) the best comfort is to concentrate on the carrots.

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    May 7th, 2010 @20:24 #
     
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    hmmm... I'm not sure about that. Surely reviewers should be accurate as well as informed if they're to give the profession/craft its due. And called to account if/when they're not - whether by their editor/readers or the books' readers/publishers/authors.

    And surely its not the lot of the latter to be merely and quietly grateful for carrot crumbs. For then it'd seem as if authors should be afraid of invoking the wrath of reviewers lest they call yet more negative reviews down upon their books. As if reviewers would be that unprofessional...

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    May 7th, 2010 @20:26 #
     
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    as is clear for all to see, I have a serious blank vis a vis its and it's. I also can't tell left from right without lengthy calculation :-(

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  • <a href="http://rodmackenzie.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rod Mackenzie</a>
    Rod Mackenzie
    May 12th, 2010 @02:04 #
     
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    Hi Moi, you sound like me with grammar. My serious blind spots are subject verb concordance and split infinitives. I know the rules, they are easy enough, but....

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