"Teenager Da Chen gathers soil from the riverbank near his village in China's far south, before he leaves to attend university in Beijing, to bear witness to his past and contain the sounds of the river of his childhood. Later, spilled onto the dry earth of the North, they will merge two parts of Da's life, in this second volume of his lyrical trilogy of memoirs, a sequel to the acclaimed COLOURS OF THE MOUNTAIN. Beginning with his first train journey to Beijing from his parents farm, we rumble along with him in the overcrowded and disease ridden railway carriage to the university. Here the author faces a range of challenges, including poor living conditions, lack of food, and suicidal roommates. Undaunted by these hurdles and armed with a dogged determination to learn English and familiarise himself with 'all things Western', he must compete with every other student to win a chance to study in the US - a chance that rests in the shrewd and corrupt hands of the all powerful professors. In a richly textured story - by turns poetic, ribald, hilarious, and heartbreaking - Chen retains his indomitable spirit, but will he be any closer to attaining his goal?"
This, the second in a trilogy, follows on from the author's acclaimed Colours of the Mountain. Like its predecessor, this volume takes its title from a couplet painted by his grandfather on the door of the old family home in the village of Yellow Stone in Southern China. A teenage Da Chen is preparing to leave home and his first experience away from the bosom of his family is the three-day rail journey to Beijing. As conditions on board the cramped train deteriorate during the northbound slog across the changing Chinese landscape, Da Chen's prose masterfully brings to life a veritable barrage of sensations and encounters, all of which must have been totally alien to the 16-year-old. Shrugging off the initial rudeness of some of those who are too cool for their own good, Da Chen's honest manner wins him friends, both Chinese and foreign. As he finds his feet at university, he comes up against those universal highs and lows of life that are easily recognizable to anyone who has just left home. Settling into this 'land of no mosquitoes', he portrays his own life and the lives of all those he meets in a self-deprecating manner that is often a joy to read. His determination to learn English helps the naive and friendly country boy as he attempts to deal with life in the city, and in particular life at the prestigious Beijing Language Institute. His insatiable interest in English encourages him all the more in his attempts to pursue his aim - a chance to study in the USA. He can't help but compare his new exotic life with what he knows, and it's when he focuses on the ways of life in his home province, with its dramatic landscape of rivers and mountains, that he really hits the heights. (Kirkus UK)