Book Review: "Big in China" by Alan Paul

Summary from When Alan Paul's wife was offered the job as the Wall Street Journal's China bureau chief, he saw it as an amazing opportunity to shake up their increasingly staid suburban New Jersey life. Excited and not a little scared, they packed up their three children—ages two, four, and seven—and headed for adventure and uncertainty in Beijing, China. Based on his award-winning Wall Street Journal Online column, "The Expat Life," Big in China explores Paul's unlikely three-and-a-half-year journey of reinvention in this rapidly developing metropolis. He reveals the challenges that he and his family faced while living in a foreign land, including reaching beyond the expat community, coming to terms with his new role as a stay-at-home dad, and learning to navigate and thrive in an unfamiliar culture. By viewing an intimidating challenge as a golden opportunity rather than as a burden, he saw his world open up around him.

At the heart of the memoir is his time fronting Woodie Alan, a blues band he formed with a Chinese partner. The cross-cultural collaboration became an unlikely success. The band embarked on a tour across China, earning the title "Best Band in Beijing" and recording an acclaimed CD of original music sung in both English and Mandarin, which prompted ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons to say, "This is the best Chinese blues band I ever heard. Who knew?" Woodie Alan was symbolic of Paul's entire China experience and-proof of what transpires when one can suspend preconceived notions and plunge into a new reality.
A testament to the transformative power of a life lived beyond comfortable borders, Big in China reminds us of the importance of always keeping our horizons wide and our thoughts ambitious.

This book is going on my list of absolute favorite memoirs of all time. I had such a blast reading it. Alan Paul's writing is engaging, entertaining, informative and enlightening. This book is why I love reading travel memoirs. I love discovering about new cultures and seeing a different country from another person's eyes. I think what I loved best about the story is that Paul and his family are willing to adapt to their new surroundings and try out new things. They don't act like they are Americans in China and everyone must fit their way of life. Instead they want to learn and are eager to be taught.

Due to being half Chinese but not having been able to visit China myself, I relish in other people's experiences.
I loved seeing the country and the culture from Paul's perspective. One favorite bit was the discovery of all the different and new food they ate during their stay. It made me very hungry to keep reading about noodles. I really liked the juxtaposition of how he described the celebration meal he and the band had where they received a lot of delicious food for a very cheap price compared to the mediocre and expensive meal his wife had in a fancy western restaurant.

The majority of the book talks about Paul's experiences as a stay at home dad in a foreign country and then discovering that he can use his love of music in his new surroundings. The first part of the book deals with his dad duties as he is getting used to their new way of life. Being a stay at home dad is still not that usual even in our country but in China it was almost unheard of. As the book continues, Paul finds that he wants to There are some really funny bits in the book such as one section where Paul gets a few words mistranslated and unknowingly asks some very inappropriate questions. I nearly spit out my lunch while reading that part. Most of the book deals with him discovering that he could still participate in his love of music even in a foreign country. These sections are all super interesting as well, and I think music lovers will get a kick out of these parts.

I do wish a bit more had been talked about in the section about the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. I felt like we only got a taste of everything that was going on during that time period and I would have loved to have read more about that time period. I was very sad when the book ended. I felt that there were probably more stories that Paul could have told about his family's stay and other adventures that were not mentioned. Even if the book had been over 1000 pages, I would have felt that it was not enough. I really liked his style of writing and I found myself lost in the words and was sad to come up for air. Paul is also a blogger, as stated in his book, and I've found that many times bloggers write the best published books because they already know how to write to keep an audience.

I truly loved reading this book and it is one that I have already been recommending to several people. If you enjoy travel, memoirs, music or learning about a new culture, this book is definitely one you need to pick up. HIGHLY recommended.

Big in China by
Alan Paul is published by Harper (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher


  1. You know I do love a good memoir. I'll have to look for this one.


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