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I was in China for six weeks in 2002, after my sophomore year of college. I was in a study abroad program where we went to class for a half a day and then had the rest of the time for exploring. Sure, we had lots of activities to do, lots of area of Beijing to traverse. But we weren’t in the most central part of Beijing; we had to hire a cab to go anywhere and then try to give directions in Mandarin; and, honestly, it was thirteen trillion degrees outside and six thousand percent humidity.
I brought a few books with me (The Saving Graces, I remember, which I read at least twice during that time) but zoomed through them with the abundance of free time we seemed to have. So we made what seemed to be a pilgrimage to the English bookstore.
English books are expensive in China. The book I bought was probably the single most expensive thing I procured while in the country. And it was a copy of Tara Road by Maeve Binchy.
I didn’t know Maeve Binchy was Irish, or that she had written a lot of books. I didn’t know Tara Road was an Oprah book club pick. All I knew was that it was the longest book there that looked readable to me.
It still makes me laugh, a little, to think that I was trying to find a lengthy tome to occupy my time … in China. And that in a bookstore brim-full with American authors I managed to find a book written and set in Ireland. But I am so glad that I picked up that particular novel, because in it I found a new favorite author.
Tara Road is not my favorite of Binchy’s novels, by far. But it holds a dear place in my heart and I won’t be letting go of my China copy anytime soon.