Book Review: Buy me the Sky: The remarkable truth of China’s one-child generations, by Xinran

cv_buy_me_the_skyAvailable now in bookstores nationwide. 

We are giving away a copy of this book, and tickets to Xinran’s solo event on Friday 15 May at Auckland Writer’s Festival here.

Xinran is a true inspiration. In her books, she not only explains China as she sees it to the English-speaking world, she also shows herself to be one of life’s truly good people. What flaws she has, she acknowledges, but her ability to listen to and translate people’s experiences in a story is truly special. She uses her fame and influence for good, both in China and in London, where she lives, working with The Mother’s Bridge of Love to help disadvantaged Chinese children.

The theme of this book is China’s one-child policy, which still exists, though in a weakened form, today. It is incredible to think that the vast majority of Chinese children born between 1978 and now are only children. While I am an only child, I haven’t met a lot of other “one-and-onlies” my age, as it wasn’t usual in NZ in the 1980’s to have only one child. The effect that this policy has had, in interaction with the booming Chinese economy, is not altogether positive, as we learn through the chapters of this book.

Each of these chapters deals with a different only child who Xinran has known well. Each child was met in a different way – some were children of friends of hers, others were randomly-met acquaintances (she met Golden Swallow for the first time in a hotel foyer in Christchurch.) Each of them had vastly different family circumstances, but they had one thing in common: they were all Chinese children who were their families’ “one-and-only” child.

Xinran says, in the context of Golden Swallow’s experience: “Chinese only-child families are preoccupied with just three things: making money, cosying up to government contacts for protection, and making outrageous comparisons between their children.” This may not be true across the board, but certainly it can be understood in the context of the booming economy of China, where those who are rich are busy spending their wealth, and those who aren’t can’t take a moment out of the day to enjoy it (or spend time with their only children), as they are so busy earning it. Xinran says that China is moving so quickly these days, she can’t keep up with the changes in culture through her 6-monthly visits home. She learns a lot from her students, as they do from her.

Buy me the Sky explores how having only one child can affect families in different ways, and throughout the book she asks a question about a cultural incident in China – the Yao Jiaxin incident – of each person she interviews, to see what their thoughts are on it. This incident saw a privileged and talented piano student kill a peasant woman with a fruit knife after running her over in his car accidentally; just in case she caused trouble for him. Each of the only children is their parent’s everything – this incident reflected Yao’s need to remain his parent’s everything; and it caused him to have his own life taken, as China still practises capital punishment for first-degree murder.

Every time I said I was an only child to a new friend the answer was always ‘Oh you lucky thing, you must be so spoiled.’ I wasn’t, possibly because my parents were from huge families, but why would one want to be? How exactly can this be said to be lucky? The stories in this book are mainly of spoiled children – spoiled in different ways. Spoiled by money, spoiled by attention, spoiled by love, spoiled by high expectations – the culture of China adds to this, and these children straddle between old familial ties and the modern world.

The final chapter in this book touches on the difference between children from cities, and those from the countryside. In China, the progress of culture marches on in cities, leaving vast areas of the countryside behind – in terms of technology and in terms of values and beliefs. For instance whilst Chinese living in the countryside have not been as detrimentally effected by the one-child policy, the rates of female infanticide are much higher. In 2009 there were 33.31 million more men than women in China, as a result of female infanticide.

Read this illuminating book to better understand the changing culture of Chinese people. Many recent Chinese immigrants to New Zealand will be part of the generations described by Xinran in Buy Me the Sky – the one-and-only chance to carry on the family lineage.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Buy Me the Sky
by Xinran
Published by Rider Books
ISBN 9781846044724

Xinran is appearing in Christchurch in WORD’s Autumn Season, and twice at the Auckland Writer’s Festival. I saw her several years ago in Christchurch, and I highly recommend going along to her session (and reading this book).

Words of the Day: Tuesday, 29 April


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Book Reviews
Book Review: A Winter’s Day in 1939, by Melinda Szymanik

Awards News/ Author interviews
Beagle alert! Des Hunt answers our Q & A about Project Huia, a #nzpcya finalist in the Junior fiction category

Are you a @lainitaylor fan? Enter our competition to win the first 2 books in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone series

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A journey to a strange land – The 2014 London Book Fair, by Katie Haworth. Have we got any booktubers here in New Zealand? If you are one/ know some, can you email me at

Head down to one of these indies and register your kobo. They get money when you buy e-books!

The @ninetonoon review schedule for May is available now

I want to be in the room with the ABIA judges debating between The Luminaries & Diary of a Wimpy Kid...

The Book Show set for a redux with Beattie & Beu.

Upstart Announces New Novel from Author Greg McGee 

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One blogger decided to read around the world (all 196 countries) in a year! See her journey.

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HG Wells interviewing Stalin in 1934

MOVIE NEWS! The new extended trailer for The Fault in Our Stars is now online

The Luminaries as a Sensation Sequel?

I posted the 1000th post on the booksellers blog today! Thank you to those who have contributed in the past, and those who continue to contribute. It is great fun to run the reviewing, and I must say I was grateful to have the backup when our website was on the rocks… I look forward to giving more great stuff in the future – keep an eye out for the next two weeks, as I have people in Dunedin and Auckland at the writer’s festivals (with I could go myself!)

-Sarah Forster

Words of the Day: Tuesday 4 March


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Book Reviews
The Secret of Magic is a book that will move you.’ A look into post-WW2 southern USA bigotry.

Here is the March book review schedule for Radio NZ @ninetonoon

Book Review: Charlotte and the Golden Promise, by Sandy McKay

Elizabeth Knox and Kate De Goldi will be at the new Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival.

If Rime of the Ancient Mariner is on your @NZFestival shortlist, you better hurry – tickets are selling fast!

A 24-hour giveaway to a fab event: Writing a Life Less Ordinary next Tuesday at 3.15pm. Includes books!  

Monica Dux is coming! And she’s doing an event or two for Writer’s Week! Win tickets and books!

Book news
If you are a writer-event-enjoyer, but a bit skint, here is your solution: free events!

We are now calling for registrations for National Poetry Day 2014. Plan ahead!

@thebookseller reviews the state of New Zealand publishing

Random House NZ have a brand new community for crime and thriller fans! Head over to and check it out.

Booksellers NZ’s Preview of Reviews, Monday 3 March

Congratulations to those who have received funding through the NZSA/Auckland Museum research grants
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Award-Winning Authors Struggling to Make Ends Meet: Writing for The Guardian, Robert McCrum…

Helen Rickerby is Tuesday Poem editor this week, and is delighted to share three treats from Bird Murder by Stefanie Lash

Here’s a book title that obviously wasn’t conceived in NZ: 1080 recipes. Possum stew, anyone?

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Words of the Day: Monday, 6 January 2014


Book reviews
Book Review: Built for Caffeine, by Ben Crawford

Book Review: I am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai

Book Review: Barracuda, by Christos Tsolkias

Book review: New Zealand’s Lost Heritage, by Richard Wolfe

Author interviews
Author Markus Zusak reflects on the journey he’s taken with The Book Thief:

Armistead Maupin: San Francisco’s chronicler calls time on his saga | Observer

Our events calendar is looking a bit empty. Who out there has some great 2014 events to fill it with? E:

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Congratulations to all the book industry stars who were named for New years’ Honours

Ooh here’s a good ticket – the bookmark pass for entry to 15 events @ the @nzfestival Writers & Readers week

From around the internet
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Fan fiction writers rejoice – Sherlock and Watson are now free reign

Do you stock up on self-help books in the new year?

Wherein Helen Rickerby asserts that this year is going to be awesome, and announces her big news

Words of the Day: Tuesday, 19 November

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Book Review: A photo album, a scrapbook and World War 1

New Releases
Look at these handsome devils! The Penguin Horror series, curated by Guillermo del Toro, just landed.

New Release: Union Jax, by Jax Hamilton (Bateman)

Giveaway: Who Killed Scott Guy? by Mike White @AllenAndUnwin

Booksellers: get in touch with John McIntyre if you want to go to the Wellington Book Trade Christmas Do this Sunday at the Southern Cross.

Book News
Buying an e-reader this Christmas? Go to your local indie & buy a Kobo. They get a cut from books too!

At last the showdown: Eleanor Catton versus Dan Brown.

From around the internet
Publisher BURN! (But not the books. Don’t burn the books, guys). @samelworthy @FergusVUP

Neil Gaiman’s advice to aspiring writers  #NaNoWriMo

What is the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year and how is it chosen?

“I’m never clear on how ‘self-help’ differs from ‘help.’ Books help.” Andrew Solomon, By the Book

@vicbooks Living Among the Stacks: the Dream vs. the Reality

Book discovery problems in the e-world…

Please, Will Somebody Re-Design These Covers? | ShelfTalker

Words of the Day: Tuesday, 5 November 2013




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Book Review: The Teddy Bear’s Promise, by Diana Noonan, illustrated by Robyn Belton @HarperNZ

Book Review: After Her, by Joyce Maynard

Rachel O’Neill’s One Human in Height: Sent Paula Green searching for a new word to signal the kind of writing that takes…

Author interviews
The Book Council’s own Rachel O’Neill is in the ‘5 Easy Questions’ hot seat over on Booknotes Unbound

This conversation between Joan Fleming and @EleanorCatton is full of gold

Tuesday Poem
Helen Rickerby is editor at @TheTuesdayPoem, and posted ‘No time like the ’80s/ No future’ by Airini Beautrais

Food writing by famous people, A Fork in the Road is one of our giveaways this week

The winner of Wake by @ElizabethKnoxNZ is Russell Coldicutt.

Book News
Vote for your favourite (shortlisted) book on Goodreads!

Hundreds queuing for #HobbitFanEvent in #Wellington today/ (Photo: Kent Blechynden).

Congratulations to @AnnabelLangbein and the other writers honoured at the Culinary Quills on Saturday

From around the internet
Wondering ‘How Bullshit Works’? Episodes 1 & 2 of Joe Bennett’s reading of his book for @ninetonoon available

A sad & hopeful set from poet @ashleigh_young is the next in our ‘Creative people make creative sets’ series

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” – Terry Pratchett. Listener weekly quiz online


Words of the Day: Wednesday, 9 October

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Book Review: The Sundew Stalks, by Joanna Knox, illustrated by Sabrina Malcolm 

Giveaway: Richard Dawkins: An Appetite for Wonder (biography)

Sounds an interesting event – Veronica Meduna & Rebecca Priestley tell the Science Story

Book News
This is certainly food for thought about the US publishing industry – ebooks in 2008 $64m, in 2012 over $3b.

Copyright Licensing NZ is calling all authors, book artists and publishers to take part in stakeholder survey:

From around the internet
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