Author Michael Meyer on life 'In Manchuria'

'In Manchuria' by Michael Meyer
'In Manchuria' by Michael Meyer
Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

Michael Meyer spent three years in Wasteland.

It's a small rice-farming community in Manchuria, the far northeast region of China. Wasteland is the hometown of his wife's family, and Meyer watched with fascination as Wasteland transformed from individual family farms into a company town.

He describes the shift in his new book, "In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China."

From The Wall Street Journal:

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

"'In Manchuria' is not a typical book about China. It is not about the booming of cities, the nouveau riche or the holders of power. It has no investment advice to offer and does not predict whether China will take over the world. It contains gripping anecdotes from the past, but it is not a work of history. What it is is a fine book to lose yourself in on a winter's night, imagining yourself in a Manchurian farmhouse warmed with burning rice stalks or on a hard-seat train rumbling across the landscape. It is a book to read if you ever dreamed of joining the Peace Corps but didn't. It is a travel memoir with a strong literary bent, weaving together history and reportage. It is a book about China, yes, and Manchuria, but it is also about being a foreigner in a faraway country and about the limits of such a life."

On The Air

Meyer joined MPR News' Kerri Miller to talk about his time in Manchuria.

On what Harbin, China knows about Minneapolis

Harbin, China is Minneapolis' sister city. Their International Sister City Museum has a display for visitors to learn more about Minneapolis. So what's in that display? A Goldy Gopher stuffed animal, a box of Pillsbury Funfetti cake mix, a bag of wild rice and the Target and Best Buy logos, Meyer said.

On town names in Manchuria

Why the name Wasteland? "It looks nothing like a wasteland. It looks a lot like northern California or western Minnesota. Floodplains stretching to foothills," Meyer said.

The name is nothing but a decoy. The soil is ideal for farming and so settlers, who only arrived in the last 150 years, gave towns names that would make thieves and other settlers want to pass by.

"There's a lot of towns like that," said Meyer. "Lonely Outpost, Zhang's Smelly Ditch, the Dunes."

On Manchuria's similarities to Minnesota

"We have 'Minnesota nice' here, the Northeasterns there are also known for being that way, for being bighearted, kind, self-effacing and a little nutty too," Meyer said. "I don't think it's a coincidence that the first person in China who claimed to have been abducted by an alien came from this area."