Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Seven Year Laowai / Travis Lee

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Literary Fiction/Short Story

Approximate word count: 9-10,000 words

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: YES  Smashwords: YES  Paper: NO
Click on a YES above to go to appropriate page in Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords store


“Travis Lee lived in China for two years, where he studied Chinese and taught English. He currently writes for the expat website Lost Laowai, and his work appears in Issue 3 of Independent Ink Magazine.”


“An ESL teacher's recollections of the seven years he spent teaching English in Wuhan, China. From the alcoholism which led him there to the nasty power games that pushed him out”


I’m not sure what to make of this. Is it fiction? (The author called it literary fiction when it was sent to me and the disclaimer at the beginning says it is fictional. The book retailer sites have it classified that way.) Is it a memoir? (The book description makes it appear so and it reads like it). The author’s bio makes either seem possible. As a memoir, my feelings would be slightly better than approaching this as fiction.

As a short memoir, if in fact that was what this was, it would be interesting. The stories the narrator tells about the people he worked with and the experiences he had would satisfy one of the things I look for in a memoir, a feel for what it’s like walking in someone else’s shoes, with their fears, frustrations, and possibly a glimmer of what they learned from the experience. As fiction, it isn’t clear what the point of the story is.

A couple issues I have no matter how the story is viewed. One is two scenes with the same person (a character named Jack) that are repetitive. While the two scenes have a different setting and people present, they’re essentially the same. In the first one the narrator says that Jack likes to tell the same stories and has an issue with Americans. In the second scene, Jack tells the same stories and the narrator even repeats that Jack likes to tell the same stories. The second could have been mostly cut (just letting us know he repeated his same old stories) without losing anything.

A more significant issue is that what, at least in my opinion, should be the big story and the overall story arc is barely hinted at. The narrator went to China to escape the life he’s living in his home country (what country isn’t clear). He’s an alcoholic (fired from his previous job due to this) and has kids he hasn’t seen in many years. We learn this early on and the story ends with him possibly going to visit a grown daughter in an attempt to reconnect and reconcile. Or possibly ready to blow that off and get drunk instead. Yet very little of what comes in between helped us understand what brought him from point A to point B other than time passed, unrelated things happened, and words were expended.

Format/Typo Issues:

A small number of typos.

Rating: ** Two stars

No comments: