Review: ‘Two Years in the Melting Pot’ a memoir

“Two Years in the Melting Pot” by Liu Zongren

By SAMANTHA STANFORD

Many people have heard the saying that the U.S. is “the great melting pot” — a great blending of cultures from all over the world, yet having a unique culture all of its own. A culture many have seen as confusing and strange. Imagine being dropped into such a place with no friends, family or knowledge of where you are or how to communicate.

“Two Years in the Melting Pot” is a memoir of Liu Zongren, a scholar and journalist, who leaves his family and home country of China for two years. Zongren travels to the U.S. to study English in the 1980s and is struck with the many challenges of being a stranger in a strange land. He finds that his life involves much more than just classrooms, courses and books.

Zongren talks about his experiences with landlords, evangelists, juvenile detention centers, street gangs, Christmas and much more. By the end, he is grateful to return home, but he is also glad for the things he learned and experienced.

Some readers might find this memoir a tough read because of the dry analytical approach Zongren takes when writing it. The book is not full of flowery poetic wording or graphic imagery. It states his iterpretation of the harsh facts about American culture compared to his own Chinese culture.

The story gives a wonderful mixture of scholarly analysis about the cultural differences between Chinese and Americans. Within Zongren’s scrutiny of American society lies heartbreaking emotional insight of the alienation one feels from being away from home in a place that you don’t understand with people who don’t understand you.

The memoir is more than twenty years old, but it has stood the test of time. It is as relevant today as it was when it was first published in January 1988. This book shows no matter who you are or where you’re from, you can relate to the people and situations in one way or another and that’s what makes it a read that stays with you.

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