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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Singer

Book Review: Ms. Ming’s Guide To Civilization by Jan Alexander (2019), Fiction

Andrew's review of Ms. Ming’s Guide To Civilization by Jan Alexander.

Do you want to make the world a better place? Well, Ms. Ming’s Guide To Civilization by Jan Alexander (Regal House 2019) will show you a way. But be warned. The journey is a roller coaster that may not lead you back to where you began.

Xiao Ming, Little Bright One, was born in Sunshine Village. This lonely backwater deep in the mountainous hinterlands of Sichuan, hidden by the clouds, is anything but a shining beacon. It has been bereft since the legendary Monkey King and his cosmic love broke up, creating a melancholy, unfillable void mired in its dirt paths and rustic walls.

The young Xiao Ming dreams of being a writer, of escaping from Sunshine Village--from China. She read a story about a group of writers in a far-away place and set her sights on New York City. But when she must flee from her dream back to Sunshine Village after a heady mix of sex work, crime, and absorbing the zest and verve of the great city, she “could still smell the salty fog and taste the bitter raindrops of her childhood home.”

This was to change. Sunny days arrive. Little Bright One is the human nexus between an immortal being (the Monkey King) and an immortal soul (his cosmic love unknowingly taken human form), all of whom yearn for greener pastures. With “instinct, brains, private equity,” and magic technology, the trio sets out to help Chinese society evolve. Their scheme has promise: Help the people in economic and political power promote the benefit of sharing wealth and prosperity and security. Emphasize the arts and introspection. Achieve inner peace and alleviate poverty, crime, and inequity. The ultimate trickle-down economic and social policy.

And it works--for a while. From a bunkered control center, they guide China as its sharp edges soften. But problems inevitably arise because humans (and even immortals and cosmic souls) are still part of the equation. Desires, shortcomings, personalities, and circumstances find a way to bubble to the surface, to warp a utopian dream. There is no free lunch.

Ms. Ming’s Guide to Civilization is as much a searing indictment of top-down, socially engineered living as it is of bottom-up, laissez-faire living, with a healthy dose of human realism. It challenges our notions of linear time, monogamy, and balance. But throughout, even to the twisting end, our heroine holds out hope. Hope that there is a path to a better life, for herself, for her friends and family, and for the broader society--adream she can never abandon.


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