Mark Salzman

Mark Salzman
Lost in Place 

“When I was thirteen years old I saw my first kung fu movie, and before it ended I decided that the life of a wandering Zen monk was the life for me. I announced my willingness to leave East Ridge Junior High School immediately and give up all material things, but my parents did not share my enthusiasm.” And with that, Mark Salzman’s uproarious memoir is off and kicking.

Suburban Connecticut doesn’t offer much in the way of role models for his chosen vocation, so Salzman has to improvise: burning incense from the local head shop, dyeing his pajamas black to make a karate uniform, scouring the library for works on Eastern mysticism. Walking barefoot to school is supposed to make him impervious to pain; instead it only embarrasses his siblings and prompts a teacher to ask, “Mark, haven’t you ever heard of Shoetown?”

Determined to become a fearless warrior, Salzman immerses himself in Bruce Lee movies and martial arts classes taught by a pot-smoking Sensei. He trains zealously, undiscouraged by the instructor’s harsh tactics and his father’s gloomy sarcasm. “My son, the block of wood,” says Joseph.

It takes years before Salzman comes to the conclusion that it’s useless trying to be someone he’s not, by which time his dedicated study of Chinese language and culture has landed him in Yale. (His father is sure there’s been a mistake at the admissions office.) There he continues his Eastern odyssey, eventually traveling to China to teach English. Iron & Silk, another captivating book, grows out of that experience.

If you ever longed to escape from the situation you were born into, you may recognize yourself in this wry coming-of-age tale.

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