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Meet Me in Venice: A Chinese Immigrant's Journey from the Far East to the Faraway West

Meet Me in Venice: A Chinese Immigrant's Journey from the Far East to the Faraway West

by Suzanne Ma

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When Ye Pei dreamed of Venice as a girl, she imagined a magical floating city of canals and gondola rides. And she imagined her mother, successful in her new life and eager to embrace the daughter she had never forgotten. But when Ye Pei arrives in Italy, she learns her mother works on a farm far from the city. Her only connection, a mean-spirited Chinese auntie,


When Ye Pei dreamed of Venice as a girl, she imagined a magical floating city of canals and gondola rides. And she imagined her mother, successful in her new life and eager to embrace the daughter she had never forgotten. But when Ye Pei arrives in Italy, she learns her mother works on a farm far from the city. Her only connection, a mean-spirited Chinese auntie, puts Ye Pei to work in a small-town café. Rather than giving up and returning to China, a determined Ye Pei takes on a grueling schedule, resolving to save enough money to provide her family with a better future.

A groundbreaking work of journalism, Meet Me in Venice provides a personal, intimate account of Chinese individuals in the very act of migration. Suzanne Ma spent years in China and Europe to understand why Chinese people choose to immigrate to nations where they endure hardship, suspicion, manual labor and separation from their loved ones. Today all eyes are on China and its explosive economic growth. With the rise of the Chinese middle class, Chinese communities around the world are growing in size and prosperity, a development many westerners find unsettling and even threatening. Following Ye Pei’s undaunted path, this inspiring book is an engrossing read for those eager to understand contemporary China and the enormous impact of Chinese emigrants around the world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Chinese Canadian journalist Ma tackles the hot subject of immigration with her sensitive portrayal of a young woman who makes her way to northern Italy from Qingtian, a barren mountain town in the Zhejiang Province of China. According to the author, many Qiantianese are "drawn to Italy's textile and manufacturing industries" centered in Prato, "home to the highest percentage of Chinese in Europe," where they are the linchpin of factories owned and run by fellow Chinese émigrés. With 300,000 registered Chinese, they now rank as the fourth largest immigrant group in Italy. Ma connects with Ye Pei in 2011 when she's a 16-year-old high school student in China and follows her to the Italian town of Solesino where she endures long hours working at a bar resolving to earn money for her parents to retire. Ma reconstructs Pei's move to Italy, recounting the bumps of culture shock such as the struggle of mastering a new language with a different writing system. The author, who grew up in Chinese household but identifies as a Western, includes her own personal grappling with identity and cultural heritage. However she is most compelling when recounting Ye Pei's story of self-sacrifice is the strength that she derives from the nuclear family as it reunites in a new country. That said, the reader will never view the "Made in Italy" label in the same way again. Photos. (Feb.)
Los Angeles Review of Books
Ma’s analytical lens zooms in and out, introducing her readers to individual migrant lives while illuminating the larger historical and sociopolitical context. . . .Beautifully crafted and poignant. . . .Ma’s book illuminates the humanity of those immigrants so often unseen.
Washington Independent Review of Books
The Chinese are everywhere. There are Chinatowns in almost every major city of the world, and in many minor ones as well. . . .Where do all these Chinese come from? Why do they leave the familiarity and comfort of their homelands to endure backbreaking toil, prejudice, and homesickness in foreign countries? Suzanne Ma addresses these questions in her eye-opening, fascinating, and beautifully written case study, Meet Me in Venice. . . .Meet Me in Venice is a revealing and thought-provoking look at the true meaning of our globalized economy, the falsity behind country-of-origin manufacturing labels, and the actual human cost of what we wear and eat.
California Bookwatch
With most news centering around China's economic growth, it's especially important to understand the paths of Chinese immigrants and their experiences, and this story uses one young woman's journey to illustrate a familiar course for many in a key recommendation for any who would understand more of the immigrant experience in general and Chinese culture around the world, in particular.
Howard W. French
Suzanne Ma has written a perfect little jewel of a book that gets beyond the vague big picture and into specific communities and real lives, richly rewarding us by opening wide a fascinating door into the world of Chinese emigration.
Leslie T. Chang
Meet Me In Venice tells of the courage, hardships, and dreams of a new generation of Chinese who are leaving their homeland to seek fortune and opportunity in faraway lands. Suzanne Ma brings beautiful writing, compassion, and humor to the story of seventeen-year-old Ye Pei, who journeys to Italy to pursue her dreams of success and independence—and along the way, to make a perfect cup of cappuccino. Ranging from the language schools of Qingtian to the mushroom farms and garment factories of Italy, Ma illuminates the contours of Chinese immigrant lives that are at once crucial to the global economy and invisible to the outside world.
Peter Hessler
At a time when China’s global reach is increasingly apparent, Suzanne Ma has crafted a fascinating and human portrait of what life is like for young Chinese migrants in Europe. Ma, who reports extensively in both Italy and China, has a wonderful eye for detail. She sits in on a Chinese cooking class called ‘Exit the Country,’ and she notes that a small city known for out-migration has posted huge ‘Welcome’ signs in five languages—but nothing that says ‘Farewell.’ This is a book for anybody who knows what it’s like to leave home.

Jan Wong
Meet Me in Veniceis a remarkable book, a reverse Marco Polo journey in which a dutiful Chinese teenager goes to Italy, not to find herself, but to support her immigrant parents' elusive goal of one day opening up their own business. This is a tale of hope and heartache. It is also an unforgettable glimpse into one of the fundamental yearnings of our age, the all-too-human desire for a better life.
Starred Review Booklist
'For hundreds of years, Qingtian’s biggest export has been people,' journalist Ma writes in her sharp-eyed look at Chinese immigration. Ma focuses her examination on the aforementioned county of Qingtian and the plight of one particular immigrant, Ye Pei, whose family left Qingtian to make their fortune in Italy. Though it is Pei’s father, Shen, who decides to move the Ye family to Italy, his wife Fen’s visa comes through first. Fen is promised work in Venice, but the job evaporates when she arrives, so she finds work at a factory in Padua. It takes five years and a change of job before her family can join her. At 17, Pei is reluctant to leave her boyfriend in Qingtian but also excited by the prospect of the canals of Venice. Though the farm her mother works on and the Solesino coffee bar where Pei eventually secures work are far from the glamorous Venetian life she imagined, her optimism about making a better life in Italy remains undiminished. Based on years of communication and interviews with Pei, her family, and other Chinese immigrants, Ma’s unique study is essential reading for anyone seeking insight into Chinese immigration and the mind-set of those who seek better fortunes abroad.
Kirkus Reviews
A Chinese teenager's saga immigrating from Eastern China to Italy. Funded by the Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship and intrigued by migrant behavior (particularly the Europe-bound emigration patterns of her husband's birthplace of Qingtian), journalist Ma's fieldwork charts the course of a Chinese immigrant's journey from Qingtian to Venice. Drawn to "characters who seem a little out of place," Toronto-born Ma relocated to Qingtian in 2011 and was captivated by fast-talking teen Ye Pei's story. When Ma first began their informational interviews, Pei's mother had been in Italy for half a decade already, and the girl was determined to join her. Culled from interviews and diary entries, the author vividly reconstructs Pei's life beginning with her long days laboring with limited Italian vocabulary in northeastern Solesino, two hours away from Venice's picturesque canals, where she'd originally dreamed of settling abroad. As she expands her research with profiles of other hardworking immigrants and a particularly atmospheric tour of France, searching for a Qingtian connection, Ma depicts the determined immigrant experience from both a historical perspective and from effective firsthand accounts. She documents widespread xenophobia from the influx of Far East immigrants to Europe and reaches back to Pei's Chinese childhood to the day her mother left for Europe and joined a migration that's been a behavioral staple in China for centuries. Once reunited with her mother and beginning employment on a mushroom farm with the rest of her family, Pei admitted to harboring impressive ambitions far beyond farmwork, taking night classes to "learn about workplace safety, food safety, and hygiene." A sensitive writer, Ma expertly channels the yearning and base desires of her subjects through intimate conversation and cultural analysis in a narrative full of genuine compassion and appreciation. A genial, informative chronicle of the hopes and dreams of a Chinese immigrant.

Product Details

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 3.00(d)

Meet the Author

Suzanne Ma is an award-winning journalist and former Associated Press reporter whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, the Huffington Post, and Salon, among others. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where she was awarded the Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship.
Born in Toronto, Suzanne was raised by immigrant parents who insisted she attend Chinese school every Saturday morning. Suzanne’s Chinese lessons continued in Beijing, where she met her husband while studying abroad. His family’s hometown is also Ye Pei’s, and the town’s remarkable three-hundred-year history of emigration inspired this book.

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