Note to Teachers

In this "equally beguiling sequel to his acclaimed memoir, Colors of the Mountain" (Kirkus Reviews), teenager Da Chen takes his first train ride away from the farm he was raised on to his new university life in Beijing. He soon faces a host of ghastly challenges, including poor living conditions, lack of food, and suicidal roommates. Undaunted by these hurdles, and armed with a dogged determination to learn English and "all things Western," he competes to win a chance to study in America --a chance that rests in the shrewd and corrupt hands of the almighty professors. Poetic, hilarious, and heartbreaking, Sounds of the River is a gloriously written coming-of-age saga that chronicles a remarkable journey--a travelogue of the heart. Sounds of the River has been chosen as a freshman class common book at Stony Brook University, North Carolina State University, and Oklahoma City University. His appearances on campuses have garnered much praise: “A remarkable man with a remarkable story.” —James M. Montoya, Vice President, College Board, about Da Chen as the 2009 six regional forums keynote speaker “Blew our minds away.” —Angela Chou, VP of Public Relations, The College of New Jersey “Extraordinarily popular with students.” —Mary Benner, Director of Academic Affairs, Oklahoma City University Watch this video of Da Chen at North Carolina State University's 2008 Convocation--and see for yourself.

Questions for Class Discussion
1. Although Da Chen writes of his life in China, elements of the story he tells of leaving home and going off to school are probably quite familiar to other people in other countries. Can you relate to the fear and excitement of the life-changing experience that Da Chen describes? If so, what are the implications of this cross-cultural sharing? 2. Throughout Sounds of the River, dreams and reality often overlap. Examine some of these moments and discuss what they add to the life story that Da Chen presents in his autobiography. 3. Clothing receives a great deal of attention. How do clothes figure into the process of personal identity formation that Da Chen details throughout his autobiography? How do clothes also figure into national and cultural identity formation as well? 4. Throughout his autobiography, Da Chen describes a tension between the traditional and the new, a tension often figured forth as a struggle (or misunderstanding) between the country and the city and/or between the Eastern and the Western. Locate examples of this tension in the text and discuss their implications for the book and for the world outside of it. 5. Discuss the way women are portrayed in Sounds of the River. How much of the objectification of women, especially younger women, can (or should) be dismissed as typical adolescent male

posturing? 6. Da Chen writes lovingly of his family and of his deep connection to them. How does his portrait of that intense bonding compare to your own experience of family? Is it possible to draw some conclusions about the universal, cross-cultural humanity to be identified in the familial bond? 7. What does it mean to be a man, according to Da Chen? What experiences do you think most shape his understanding of adult masculinity in his culture? In Western culture? 8. Describe the educational process Da Chen experiences at the Beijing Languages Institute. What seems familiar to you, and what seems foreign? How and why?

Topics for Research and Writing Projects
1. As you read the book, note the various locations to which and through which Da Chen travels. On a map of China, trace the route of his journey. What can you find online or through other library research about each of these locations? Does what you find agree with Da Chen’s descriptions of those places? 2. Da Chen speaks frequently of the social, political, and personal effects of the Cultural Revolution and of Chairman Mao Tze Tung (Mao Zedong). Research the historical context of this communist revolution in China and its leadership. How does that additional information help you understand the nature of Chinese society at the time about which Chen is writing? 3. In 1982, Da Chen served as an interpreter and guide for NBA basketball players on tour in China. Recently, the Olympics were held in Beijing. How do such sporting events function as moments of political and social exchange, as well as moments of political and social tension? 4. Sounds of the River is the second memoir by Da Chen; his first memoir, Colors of the Mountain, tells the story of his life prior to the events of Sounds of the River. Read that earlier memoir. How does that additional knowledge of Da Chen’s life inform your understanding of who he is as a college student and young adult? 5. Read Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography (or the autobiography of another person of your choice). Compare Da Chen’s autobiography to Franklin’s. How do both men portray the value of education in their lives? How do they portray the role of family and of hard work in their lives as well? 6. Da Chen writes of his admiration of the works of Jack London, especially his novel Martin Eden. Read some of London’s short stories or one of his novels. What do you think appeals to Da Chen in these works? Can you detect any influence they may have had on the way Da Chen has written Sounds of the River?

Suggestions for Further Reading
Books by Da Chen Memoir Sounds of the River: A Young Man’s University Days in Beijing Colors of the Mountain China’s Son: Growing Up in the Cultural Revolution (an adaptation of Colors of the Mountain for young adults) Fiction Brothers: A Novel Fiction for Young Adults Forbidden Tales: Sword Wandering Warrior

Additional Resource
Da Chen’s website

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