There is a special joy in being recommended a book you are currently reading while being given a book you intended to buy. Such was my luck when Dean Barrett, whose Murder in China Red and Skytrain to Murder I previously enjoyed, mailed me Dragon Slayer and suggested that I read Don Quixote in China: The Search for Peach Blossom Spring.
Don Quixote follows author Bean Barrett’s travels in southern China in search of the Chinese version of Shangri-La. While I’ve only been to two of the cities Dean traveled in (Shenzhen and Zhongshan), much of what he mentioned rang through. From western breakfasts at hotels, the bizarre Chinese-market logo of Haier, and adventures on trains, Dean has clearly been-there and done-that. The landscapes of Don Quixote are not as romantic as in Barrett’s other books (such as Bangkok Warriors or Kingdom of Make Believe), though I wonder if it’s because I’m more familiar with China than Thailand.
Unlike fiction writers, travel writers are confined in their characterization by what actual people actually disclose. Too many of the folks that Barrett meets in his journey are described only in outline. While again this is understandable, the reader wants to learn more than is ever presented.
I have never read Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and if I had I imagine I would not have found references to the original so distracting. Barnett is an excellent writer, but the humorous references to the text took away from the broader narrative and hurt the book.
Don Quixote in China is an appropriate volume for anyone seeking to complete a Dean Barrett library. However, better books by Barrett — and more enjoyable travelogues — are available.