Taichi: The Story of a Chinese Master in America, by Marc Meyer. BookLocker. 196 pages. Trade paperback $14.95. Kindle e-book, $3.99.
Enlightening and filled with captivating characters, this novel is strong on atmosphere and setting but somewhat weak on plot. Set in the 1960s, it takes us into the bi-cultural world of a young Chinese American boy named Paulie whose adult self is the narrator of the tale. He lives in New York’s Chinatown with his younger brother, Fa, their mother, Mei, and stepfather, Harry Chen. The family has a spacious apartment over its successful dry goods store, where Paulie and Fa work after school.
Everyone’s life is drastically changed with Mei’s older brother, Uncle Kuo, comes from China to live near his sister and his nephews. Though a man of status and influence during Chiang Kai-Sheck’s reign, the Cultural Revolution that followed triggered Kuo’s departure. He entered an America going through ist own very different cultural revolution.
Kuo’s ambition, quickly and effectively realized, was to open a school of T’ai Chi Chuan, a T’ai Chi form of which he was a legendary master. He connects with an old friend, Jimmy Chow, who assists him in opening bank accounts, choosing a place to live, and finding a closed dance studio that is perfect for the school.
Naturally, Paulie and Fa become students, and other young and not-so-young aspirants sign up. At this point, the story becomes, to a large degree, an ongoing description of the philosophy and skills required to rise up the ladder of T’ai Chi mastery. Mr. Meyer is able to make this material quite fascinating through precise description and through connecting it to the endeavors and achievements of Kuo’s students, who are sharply individualized. Indeed, members of the core group are given special names: Fire, Metal, Water, Earth, Wood. Each student has a trait that connects to his or her element.
Meet Ba Ling, a seventeen year old transfer student from Beijing who had immigrated via Ellis Island. Already a stellar martial arts performer, the troubled young woman becomes a teacher in the school while she continues her own development. Alcohol and drug addiction plague her progress, and her setbacks plague the school. Paulie is overwhelmed by the slender beauty, only a few years older than he is. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 10, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 11 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here Florida Weekly – Meyer 1 and here Florida Weekly – Meyer 2