American Shaolin

Title: American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China

Author: Matthew Polley

Publisher: Gotham, December 2007

Summary: This is not your typical travelogue or coming-of-age story, but this Alex Award winner will be as entertaining as any book you’ll read this year. In 1992, Matthew Polley dropped out of Princeton and went to China to learn kungfu from the legendary monks of the Shaolin temple in China. He lived there for two years at the temple, studying kickboxing and becoming the first American to be accepted as a Shaolin disciple.

This book chronicles not only Matthew’s story, but also the rapid changes occurring in rural China during the ’90s, where cultural traditions and social mores truly began to collide with the modernizing influences of the West. Written in an almost irreverent tone with several laugh-out-loud, cringe inducing moments (the noted Iron Crotch technique being among them), American Shaolin is really about the relationships between Matthew, his fellow trainees and monks, and the other laowai (foreigners) who come to Shaolin to study and to profit. The monks of Shaolin, young and old, provide the heart and soul of this terrific book.

Who will like this book?: People looking for a book about the changes in China that isn’t overly political or preachy. Readers who like stories about other cultures. Anyone who harbors fantasies about secretly being the toughest guy in the room…and being able to prove it.

If you like this, try this: A Fighter’s Heart by Sam Sheridan. Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman. Shenzen by Guy Delisle.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

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