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From Barnes & NobleDiscover Great New Writers
What happens when a New York high-school teacher joins the Peace Corps and travels to one of the remotest parts of China? First, of course, comes a large dose of culture shock. Levy launches himself on a steep learning curve, including coping with primitive plumbing, delicacies like spicy chicken feet, and a mysterious Chinese proclivity for John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Worried that his students in backward Guizhou will be stereotypical Maoists, he discovers that though they do still cling to ideology, they are also hungry for modernization with "Chinese characteristics" and equally thirsty for knowledge, romance, and personal information about their Jewish American teacher. After Levy abandons the idea of kosher dog meat from the local Walmart, he and his students settle for an improvised Shabbat dinner of pizza after a long, zany hunt for cheese. In class, students yell their answers at concert-level volume, and when Levy points out that an answer is wrong, the usual response is a serene "But we have learned it." Eventually, Michael becomes emotionally involved in his students' lives. One day in class while immersed in a lively discussion of Kurt Vonnegut, he realizes that he's forgotten he is in faraway China and is simply a teacher enjoying the lively repartee of intelligent students. Levy's observant eye gives us a down-to-earth, affectionately humorous view of a land foreign to most Americans—and makes us see (and enjoy!) our common humanity.