My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The book is about a part of Nothomb’s own life, spent in China as a diplomat’s daughter. Most diplomatic families live in colonies (which Nothomb christens ghettos) that are separated from the local population. As a result, many different nationalities come together in a microcosm of the outside world. Like the outside world, children from expat colonies indulge in their own wars, form their own alliances and chose their own enemies.
At appropriate intervals Nothomb, the child is funny, and these comic sightings keep the book interesting. Though the narration is based in China, there is little China that you meet – it is just somewhere out there, and never penetrates into the story, which is a bit disappointing, especially because the back-cover gives you the impression that it is going to be about an imaginative childhood in a troubled country (I immediately imagined Pan’s Labyrinth, my fault, but you always anticipate based on what you have already experienced). Yet, there are certain short but astute observations, particularly on the secretive nature of Chinese government.
In all ways, the book is a capsule of a larger, more conscious adult life taken by a child. She experiences war, love, suffering and lives in a microcosm. All in the space of three years.