Thursday, January 2, 2020

Book Review: 'An American Bum in China: Featuring the bumblingly brilliant escapades of expatriate Matthew Evans' by Tom Carter (Illustrated by) John Dobson

An American Bum in China by Tom  Carter

‘May you live in interesting times’ – an apocryphal Chinese curse!

Author Tom Carter has become a leader in international diplomacy! His immensely successful book CHINA: PORTRAIT OF A PEOPLE remains a model of melding photography with commentary. This handsome hunk adventurer is from San Francisco originally but won a degree in political science from the American University in Washington, DC and packed his backpack for China in 2004 where he spent two years trekking across 35,000 miles through every Chinese province, winning the title `son of China's foremost explorers' while capturing it all on film and imbedding his psyche with the myriad aspects of the people and beauties of China. This man knows China and he still lives there - in Shanghai.

Now Tom offers a very contemporary and timely book that takes a different twist on his own experiences. Tom narrates this splendidly entertaining (and informative) tale of Matthew Evans, a fellow expatriate (Matthew is from Iowa) whose travels/travails in China bristle with human errors and misadventures in a most colorful manner. The synopsis holds the adventure well: ‘Down on his luck and disabled, cancer survivor Matthew Evans had nothing to lose by fleeing the farmsteads of Muscatine, Iowa, at age 21 to pursue his Chinese Dream. With all the makings of a classic folk tale, his curiosity became an epic five-year adventure that would find him homeless, stateless, posing as a professor, imprisoned, deported, and caught in the middle of the 2014 Hong Kong protests.’

Abetted by John Dobson’s fine drawings/illustrations, Tom starts his story as follows: It was just about midnight when Matthew Evans burrowed rodent-like through a hole in a fence in southwestern China’s subtropical Yennan Province and illegally crossed the border into Burma. The jagged opening in the iron rails had already been cut out, probably years earlier, and was one of the countless unlawful points of entry between Ruili, a bustling Chinese bordertown on the Shweli River, and the small Burmese city of Muse...’ As Tom later shares, ‘I first met Matthew Evans from Muscatine in 2010 at a book signing at the sparsely patronized Bookworm in the scenic canal town of Suzhou…Evans had emailed me two years prior, saying he had read my book and asked about coming to China…’ And thus begins one of the best books of the year, immensely entertaining while at the same time rich in insights into a country too few of us understand.

‘I realize now that the arc of his adventures share the same timeless threads that, throughout world history, have driven other immigrants, expatriates, and refugees to the United States, only in reverse.’ In that statement, as in this book, Tom focuses on the very timely conundrum of the White House wrangle with the ‘border wall’ and migrants in general. To understand the ‘now’ of it all, read Tom Carter’s very worthy story – for pleasure, and for insight! Said once, say again - This is an important book, not only because of the content, but also because Tom Carter cares about the `globalism ` of learning about all the friends who share this planet. Very highly recommended for all readers. 

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.