Title: Lost On Planet China: One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation
Author: J. Maarten Troost
Publication Year: 2008
Genre: Non-Fiction, Travel
Source: From the Books Read Around the World event
From the cover:
Maarten Troost has charmed legions of readers with his laugh-out-loud tales of wandering the remote islands of the South Pacific. When the travel bug hit again, he decided to go big-time, taking on the world’s most populous and intriguing nation. In Lost on Planet China, Troost escorts readers on a rollicking journey through the new beating heart of the modern world, from the megalopolises of Beijing and Shanghai to the Gobi desert and the hinterlands of Tibet.
Troost brings China to life as you’ve never seen it before, and his perceptive, rip-roaringly funny narrative proves that once again he is one of the most entertaining and insightful armchair travel companions around.
When I first signed up for this pseudo-book tour, I hadn’t heard of this book before. To be completely honest, I still wasn’t really sure about it: it’s not at all the type of book that I normally read, and I wasn’t entirely sure that I would enjoy it. But, I really wanted to take part in the event, and it sounded interesting enough (especially after looking up the author’s previous titles), so I figured … why not?
I’m glad that I ended up sucking it up and reading outside of my comfort zone.
It took me longer than usual to read Lost On Planet China, but the extended reading time gave me opportunities to reflect on what I was reading, far more than I usually do. I found the going tougher near the beginning of the book, largely just because of the unfamiliar genre: I do not normally read travel writing, even if it’s not called such. Once I got into Troost’s rhythm, though, I got sucked into his journey of exploration in China. I ended up really enjoying his point of view, even though I didn’t always agree with the way he analyzed his experiences.
Troost comments a lot about “the way Chinese are” or “the way Chinese do things”, in broad, sweeping statements. While I understand that these analyses come from the experiences that he had while in China, at times I was a tad uncomfortable with the way that he painted all Chinese people with the same brush. Thankfully, those moments were rare, and for the most part, his commentary kept me interested, entertained, and often chuckling to myself.
I especially enjoyed the experiences that Troost had when he visited certain parts of China that most people don’t get to, such as Tibet. He had a way of describing these experiences within the context of both Chinese and Tibetan experience, and he didn’t always take the “official point of view” on things. It was nice to see someone really delve into the issues, even in a fairly light-hearted way, because the average Western reader isn’t necessarily exposed to this knowledge. I think that’s why I liked quite a bit of what he did: flawed or not, he gave a better mental image of China to those who haven’t visited there than most of us could have even dreamed of having before that.
All in all, I ended up really enjoying Lost On Planet China. It was a real eye-opener, a closer, more personal look into the lives and experiences of an entire country that I generally have very limited knowledge about. I suspect that I’m not alone in this, and so I would recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in learning about China’s people and culture from the perspective of an outsider who tries to integrate himself into the country’s existence for a while. Troost’s story isn’t the be-all and end-all of absolutely true sociological observation or anything, but his humour and anecdotes make up for that with wit and charm.