Tour Review: Double Happiness by Tony Brasunas

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Double Happiness Book CoverI’ve always wanted to travel… but I don’t want to visit mainland China. I don’t actually want travel anywhere farther than the other side of the country – I’m what you’d call an armchair traveler. (Thank goodness I have books, right?) Double Happiness captures the essence of Chinese culture and China at the end of the 20th century through words that effectively stimulated all of my five senses. Tony’s descriptive prose shapes a China that is constantly changing due to his increasing knowledge of the country and its people, and his vivid accounts of his adventures and romances reveal both his own inner turmoil as well as that of the country that captured his interest.

Title: Double Happiness: One Man’s Tale of Love, Loss, and Wonder on the Long Roads of China
Author: Tony Brasunas
Publisher: Torchpost
Publication Date: December 12, 2013
Category: (Non-Fiction) Memoir / Travel
Edition / Format: First Edition / eBook, Paperback, Hardcover
ISBN13: 9780991166244 (GoodReadsAmazon)
Source: Closed the Cover in exchange for an honest review.

Introduction

At twenty-two, Tony Brasunas had never left the United States, nor taught a class on anything. The journey that changed him forever, that broke open his heart and awakened his mind, began in a high school classroom in hot, coastal Guangzhou, China, and culminated on the plateaus of Tibet. A journey into the heart of a changing China and through the soul of a young American, Double Happiness is a groundbreaking story of spiritual awakening in the era of globalization. This is a tale for armchair travelers, English teachers, China buffs, adventure backpackers, young people in their twenties and thirties seeking a place in this shrinking world, and readers of all ages curious about a young man’s coming of age in a foreign land.

Closed the Cover

Discussion

Double Happiness features a captivating narrative that alternates between two time points: one that starts with Tony’s arrival in Guangzhou, China to teach English at Peizheng Middle School in 1996, and the other with him and his friend watching the official return of Hong Kong to China in 1997. His experiences in the city of Guangzhou as well as in the different parts of China show just how little the Chinese know about the Western world and, similarly, how little Americans like Tony understand China.

And despite its title, Double Happiness is filled with conflicts. I think sometimes the idea of going into developing countries like China to work or just to travel is glorified or oversimplified, but as Tony describes it, it’s hard work. Things don’t go as planned, and sometimes you get food poisoning or you’re treated differently because you don’t look local or life is just unfair at times. The struggles that Tony faces range from the mundane (getting safe drinking water) to the extreme (running out of money) to the very personal (feeling attracted to women he might never see again). In terms of that last one, I was touched by Tony’s romantic journey but couldn’t really relate to parts of it – maybe because I’m a girl? And just a heads-up for the younger China buffs: there are a few short explicit scenes that come after the kissing (as they often do in relationships), so expect the expected.

Tony also sheds light on the internal unrest in China – the joy of the countrymen in response to the Hong Kong handover clashes with the frustration of others. In addition, China is remodeling itself physically, which adds to the discord:

Beyond the walls of campus, interminable ramshackle neighborhoods of the city unfold in a sea of crumbling brick walls and corrugated steel roofs. Jackhammers pounding in the distance give the impression that not just a city but an entire continent is under construction around us.

There is happiness to be found, though; Tony has great luck finding transportation, friends, and romantic interests throughout his trips across the country, and near the end of the book, there’s a sense of liberation and contentment. His writing style is kind of like the written version of the music that accompanies a yoga session, and it provides a balance for the conflicts and struggles that are present along his journey. I also really enjoyed Estelle Kim’s illustrations, which map Tony’s routes across the country.

One aspect of Double Happiness that I didn’t enjoy as much was Tony’s use of references from Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund, a book that he reads throughout this book. (A book within a book? INCEPTION.) Although the passages from Narcissus paralleled the real-life events, I felt that it was distracting, and I kept wanting to skip those parts and get back to the real action.

Conclusion

Overall, Double Happiness features a captivating journey, conflict and resolution, minor distractions, and a window to that land across the ocean. Fellow armchair travelers and China buffs, give this book a try!

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About the Author

TonyBrasunas Author

Tony Brasunas grew up on a commune in West Virginia. Before leaving for China, as a teenager at Amherst College, he studied Chinese, music, writing, and Computer Science, and meandered into a thoughtful and lonely social and political conservatism.

Directionless after college, perhaps expecting something more from the planet, Tony applied just after the deadline to Princeton in Asia, and he was swiftly bundled off to Guangzhou, China, to teach English. The ensuing journey broke him open. His body tasted death in hospitals and Tibetan monsoons, his heart opened up and slammed shut and opened again, and some unknown inner sage awoke and suggested he trust his intuition.

Double Happiness: One Man’s Tale of Love, Loss, and Wonder on the Long Roads of China (forthcoming, December 12, 2013, from Torchpost) masterfully retells that awakening against a backdrop of a modern, changing China.

Excerpts from the manuscript have appeared in the book China, an anthology of travel writing on China published by Travelers’ Tales Press, and in Travelmag, a British online travel magazine.

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9 thoughts on “Tour Review: Double Happiness by Tony Brasunas

  1. This sounds interesting. I think it’s really nice when a book presents to you a country based on a ‘visitor’s’ perspective compared to the local’s. I have a few acquaintances in China who are teaching English there and I do hear stories from them sometimes. Like the book, their lives over there are filled with conflicts.

    • I agree, She! The visitor’s perspective is always a unique one, and I love seeing the contrast between the visitor’s perspective and the local’s. I have friends who are teaching/working in China too, and it’s interesting seeing who has adapted and who’s still living the Western life in the Eastern world, haha. I haven’t heard much about conflicts though, so Double Happiness has been a very eye-opening experience for me.

  2. Oops, I’m late :O

    I didn’t realize that there is a romantic journey in this memoir. This appeals greatly to the girly-girl inside me. Seriously, I’m having a vision: two people meeting each other for a day, falling instantly in love, and then separating for what may be forever with only the memories of that day and a kiss for them to keep… Yeah, my fantasies are full of cliches and yet I expect published book to not have them. Does this make me a hypocrite? Oh, well, I don’t care.

    Moving on to the actual book! It’s really interesting to see the visitor’s view on a foreign country they visit, especially when they have to change the way they go through life in ways that you may or may not even think about. Having to actually search for clean water instead of just easily walking to a sink or something? Admittedly, I actually never think about things like that when I imagine going to places. Whenever I daydream about travelling to a different country, it’s always fluffy kittens and rainbows and endless amounts of money. So whenever I do find stories that actually show the conflicts that come after stepping off the plane… I’m pretty intrigued and am eager to learn… And right after I learn all those things, my daydreams still consist of fluffy kittens and rainbows and endless amounts of money.

    I just bought the ebook of Double Happiness after reading this review, and I am so excited to start reading. I first need to finish some other books, though O_O Anyways. I am sure that I will enjoy reading about Tony’s journey!

    • Oh my, so um that cliché may or may not happen in Double Happiness, haha. You’ll find out when you read it. 😛 My daydreams of fluffy kittens have already been crushed by the things I learned in school about cooking and living habits of people in developing countries, so I’m not as eager to travel anymore. May your daydreams live on.

      And omg, now the post-recommendation panic is happening… PRESSURE. I think you’ll enjoy Tony’s writing style, but we’ll see! *hides lest you fling the book at me post-reading*

      • Haha, I kind of figured. Double Happiness seems a little bit too realistic for that. Just a little bit. My cliche fantasies can’t be stopped, though. It’s quite easy for me to just ignore everything I learned about the world when it comes to my daydreams. So yes, I am sure that they will live on, even when I get reincarnated into a flower.

        If I end up hating this book, I will blame you for wasting all of my time and never speak to you again… Oh, and I won’t just be flinging the book. I will have a cannon prepared. I’m sure that this won’t happen, though, so don’t worry. Don’t worry at all.

        • Erm Lesley, I said it may OR may not happen so it may or may not happen, not that it may not happen. (Did that give too much away?)

          Eep okay I’m disappearing now.

          • Oh. Uh. Well. Hopefully the cliche that you said may or may not happen so it may or may not happen is done in a way that appeals so much to my inner girly-girl that I can’t help but like it… Sort of like Disney princess movies.

            Hmm. Maybe I was a little bit too scary.

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