Pin It

Book Review-Swallowing Clouds 

by Mary Demarest

The ways in which our names, words and means of expression are linked to our cultural identity has a remarkable parallel in the world of food. Both language and food, after all, are cultural necessities -- things that have been linked to civilization in almost every known instance. They are often the means by which a culture survives and develops.

So it's particularly delightful to discover a book like Swallowing Clouds, in which A. Zee sets out to explore the connections among Chinese language, culture and cuisine. Along the way, tucked in among the anecdotes of his childhood and succulent descriptions of traditional Chinese food, he has managed to impart a strong sense of modern Chinese culture and to inform the reader about some of the Chinese language.

With chapter headings like "How to Avoid Being Vulgar" and "Sleep of the Truly Inebriated," it's apparent that Zee is much more interested in taking us on an enjoyable journey than a purely didactic one. Nevertheless, within the first paragraph of the drinking chapter, Zee relates how the Chinese character for alcohol comes from simply combining the symbols for liquid with fermentation. Building upon this basic lesson, he then substitutes the appropriate symbol into the text wherever possible, expounding its various permutations with stories both mythological and mundane. It's a fascinating method that's enacted throughout the book.

For anyone looking to get a fast course in Chinese, Swallowing Clouds is not a language lesson. However, as Zee mentions in his introduction, the book can easily serve as a jump-start for the language. It certainly proved possible to unravel many of the characters on a simple Chinese restaurant menu with the help of the book. Quite often, the knowledge came with a sense of history and culture that made the food seem even more exotic and less like the common American-hybrid diet it's become.

For readers who want a few recipes with their history and etymology, Zee has gracefully included a brief selection of some of his favorite homemade dishes, most of them derived from his mother. As lyrically written as the rest of the book, they become a fitting partner for a text that has the capacity to nourish both the body and the mind.

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • Rich Man, Poor Men
  • Rich Man, Poor Men

    Can the wealthiest U.S. president ever help the poorest U.S. citizens?
    • Jan 18, 2017
  • La Resistance
  • La Resistance

    Michael Moore, Congressional Democrats and local progressives: How they are resisting Donald Trump's agenda
    • Jan 18, 2017
  • Must-See TV?
  • Must-See TV?

    Alternatives to the inauguration (and how to make watching more fun if you have to)
    • Jan 18, 2017
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri
Women's March on Spokane

Women's March on Spokane @ Spokane Convention Center

Sat., Jan. 21, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Marty Demarest

  • The Cowboy's Cowboy
  • The Cowboy's Cowboy

    A Canadian sings about the life —  not just the lifestyle — of the new West
    • May 15, 2013
  • Completing the Trilogy
  • Completing the Trilogy

    Mass Effect has finally arrived
    • May 23, 2012
  • Minecraft
  • Minecraft

    Adventure and survival too often give way to mindless crafts in this building-block simulator.
    • Feb 8, 2012
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • One Free Shave

    Donald Trump might have merited a honeymoon with voters had he managed his transition better
    • Dec 29, 2016
  • The Landed and the White

    How Americans followed tradition when they voted for Trump
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment




green zone


Readers also liked…

  • The <i>Real</i> Rachel Dolezal
  • The Real Rachel Dolezal

    The story goes far beyond just a white woman portraying herself as black
    • Jun 17, 2015
  • Hopeless for Heroin
  • Hopeless for Heroin

    As heroin deaths continue to rise in Washington state, what can a parent do to save a child from the depths of addiction?
    • Jul 29, 2015

© 2017 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation