SHENZHEN in the NY Times Book Review

Holiday Books

The New York Times    |    Douglas Wolk    |    December 3, 2006

In 1997, the Canadian-born cartoonist Guy Delisle was sent to the “Special Economic Zone” of Shenzhen in southern China to supervise an animation project. SHENZHEN: A Travelogue From China (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95) is a record of his three months of culture shock. Delisle does his best to acclimate to his surroundings, feasting on dog and snake and desperately trying to communicate through improvised sign language, but the linguistic and cultural barriers prove as impassable as the electrified walls around the city. Like last year’s “Pyongyang,” about his similar stint in North Korea, “Shenzhen” is a casual, dryly witty series of observations; Delisle depicts himself as so expressionless he usually doesn’t even have a mouth, and lets details like the identical design of every Chinese hotel room speak for themselves. He’s got an animator’s eye for quirks of motion, though, analyzing the arc of a public fountain’s water and the way street vendors make popcorn in a pressure cooker. The best artwork in the book is his impressionistic, unnarrated pen-and-ink-wash drawings of Shenzhen’s drab buildings and billboards, but Delisle’s keen awareness of how and why he can’t connect to the city makes for a rarity: a thoroughly engaging memoir of being bored to distraction.

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