Jonathan Cape, London; 2006
ISBN – 978-0-224-07991-4
The inside sleeve:
‘Guy Delisle’s work for a French animation studio requires him to oversee production at various Asian studios on the grim frontiers of free trade. His employer puts him up for months at a time in ‘cold and soulless’ hotel rooms where he suffers the usual deprivations of a man very far from home. After Pyongyang, his book about the strange society that is North Korea, Delisle has turned his attention to Shenzhen, the cold, urban city in Southern China that is sealed off with electric fences and armed guards from the rest of the country. The result is another brilliant graphic novel – funny, scary, utterly original and illuminating.’
Guy Delisle finds himself in an unusual position to spend time in a relatively unknown corner of the world; Shenzhen, a city north of Hong Kong. He documents the three months he is there in striking sketches and many captivating insights held within the pages of Shenzhen, A travelogue from China. Delisle’s easy style brings you instantly into his world; in a mere six panels and three lines of text you are transported to China, experiencing the sights and the smells as though you had been there yourself.
Delisle’s time in China was not altogether happy; he went through great loneliness and times of boredom, predominately borne out of the lack of a common language with the populous. These experiences however are still interesting to read about. I found it quite intriguing how he chose to occupy his mind in the absence of companionship; from talking to himself to seeking company in language students who can barely put two English words together. Not to mention how he coped with navigating basic requirements such as what to eat, without the privilege of reading the menu or talking to the waiter. I’m not so sure how I would have survived in the same situation.
On top of his personal challenges, the book offers some wonderful insights into Chinese culture. It is the subtle differences between the people of the World that I am most interested in and he captures these beautifully. The differences in infrastructure, freedom of movement from place to place and of day to day living are also explored. Should I ever travel to China I now feel a little more prepared for the culture shock that awaits. His later novel, Pyongyang, offers more in the way of cultural and political insight, but I personally feel that this is predominately due to the unique obscurity of North Korea. Shenzhen is a lovely book to own, and I will dip into it often on my armchair travels.
“Dog isn’t bad. It tastes gamey, a bit like mutton.”
“There are days when I don’t say a single word.”
“Across the way, people slave through the night, squatting over washbasins. Weeks later, I realise it’s the hotel laundry service.”