By Deborah Fallows
208 pages; Walker & Company
You don't have to know Mandarin to be captivated by Deborah Fallows's Dreaming in Chinese, her memoir of living in Shanghai and Beijing and learning the language. A journalist with a PhD in linguistics, Fallows wears her erudition lightly as she meets locals and tries to unravel the mysteries of their mother tongue. Why is it, for example, that a tableful of Chinese diners might seem to be barking orders at each other? Because they believe using "polite" terms (please; thank you; would you mind...) creates distance, and that direct language is more appropriate for intimates. Forget Berlitz—that just teaches words. Deborah Fallows shows us that the cultural implications of those words teach us about each other.