Friday, August 31

A Year Without "Made in China"

I pretty much knew as soon as I saw the title that I'd have to read this book.  What I found was a deceptively simple masterpiece that should give all of us serious pause.

Two days after Christmas in 2004, Sara Bongiorni sat in her Gulf Coast living room feeling overwhelmed and smothered by the avalanche of cheap Chinese junk overflowing from under the tree. With her husband's dubious support, the family embarked on a year-long experiment with very simple rules: no buying anything that came from China. Gifts were allowed, as was anything already in the house, but no new Chinese purchases.

What resulted was a crash course in globalism, occasional panic attacks, and tremendous insight in the dynamics of modern America.

Bongiorni's voice is simple and sincere; she doesn't pretend to have it all together, and is candid about her emotions and ideas whether laudable or laughable. Her assessments are poignant in their focus on what truly matters, such as recognizing the selfless love her husband showed in agreeing the boycott for no other reason than that he loved her (even if he did torment her along the way).

Perhaps the best part of the book, however, are the things she doesn't have to say directly because her story so clearly illustrates them on every page. The warped perceptions of American adults who actually believe children are deprived if they aren't showered with cheap plastic toys whenever they lust for them. Companies that actually require customers to submit written requests for information to the company lawyer before they'll reveal where their products are made. The reams of products that simply are not produced in the U.S. in any form any more (from children's shoes to lamp components to printer toner). The sheer volume of stuff that moves through an American household in a year - and how quickly most of it meets its demise or loses its luster.

The implications and realities of these realizations are loud and stark, and may make your head spin. The author's light touch wisely lets them speak for themselves. The book is an easy read, and you may breeze through it, but its ideas and lessons will linger in your mind for much, much longer.

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