A New Series: One Minute Reviews of
Books by Vermont Authors
Laura's column "One Minute Reviews" has appeared bi-weekly in Wilmington, Vermont's Deerfield Valley News since 2015. In April 2018, she found that no Vermont periodical consistently reviews all fiction and non-fiction by Vermont authors, so she started a series to fill that void. Published reviews from that series and some earlier reviews of local authors are listed with links to a scan of the printed copy. Reviews still in queue are listed without links until they appear in print.
A Portrait of Early 20th Century China
Claire Malcolm Lintilhac, China in Another Time: A Personal Story. Rootstock Press, 2019
This is the memoir of Claire Lintilhac (1899–1985), who was born in China, grew up there, and served as a nurse in northern China for seventeen years before marrying "Lin" Lintilhac, an English business executive based in Shantou, and later Shanghai. In 1950, the Lintilhacs and their son were forced to flee China; they lived first in New York, and then, after Lin's death, in Stowe, Vermont. There, Claire put together the memoir, recording many of its stories for her family. Thanks to the work of that family, China in Another Time brings her voice alive in numbered audio clips available online. The book is illustrated with photographs of Claire's family and their Chinese setting; the numerous wars, revolutions and invasions of this tumultuous period are summarized in insets by Nicholas Clifford, professor emeritus at Middlebury College. The resulting book is a fascinating cultural and political consideration of China during the first half of the twentieth century, as seen by a member of one of many western concessions eradicated by Mao Zedong's revolution.
Claire was the daughter of a Canadian doctor who began his Chinese career as a missionary. Dr. Malcolm and his family lived in concessions, that is, portions of Chinese cities and towns inhabited by westerners who observed the laws of their native countries, not the laws of China. Western businessmen, teachers, doctors and nurses lived, as the Chinese did, with their families and servants in family compounds surrounded by walls, but as the photographs in the book make clear, their houses were large and in western style. For the most part, the westerners who lived in them socialized with other westerners and sent their children to boarding schools in concession areas of cities (Shanghai, in the case of Claire and her siblings). As the daughter of a medical family, and later as a trained nurse, Claire interacted with many more Chinese people than other westerners. Surrounded by Chinese servants and playing with their children in their house's courtyard, she became fluent in the Chinese dialect spoken in Yantai, where her parents lived. Once she became a nurse, her fluency enabled her to travel up and down the northern Chinese coast to remote towns where there was no western medical help available; and her familiarity with Chinese life enabled her to travel on small Chinese cargo ships, undeterred by "dirt and cockroaches and sharing the only toilet with the Chinese crew." After fourteen years of this exhausting work, she settled in Tianjin, where she worked for three years in a small maternity hospital before she married.
Since Claire lived and worked in China during the years that saw the end of the Qing dynasty and the Nationalist Revolution, during World Wars I and II, and during the civil wars between the Nationalists and the Communists, much of her narrative concerns these events. Particularly compelling about the book, however, are its observations about life in China in the early twentieth century. Claire tells stories of slow travel by houseboat up the Grand Canal, and she describes in detail the daily chore of purifying the canal water, which Chinese and westerners alike drank. She describes the process of foot-binding—and its effect, which was to make it almost impossible for women to walk, thus preventing them from finding medical care for their desperately ill children. She speaks hearing little noises as she passes a "baby tower," a pagoda-like structure in which deformed, illegitimate, or otherwise undesirable babies were abandoned. Each story sears itself into the reader's memory, not only for itself but for the clearheaded, compassionate understanding of its teller.