China High by ZZ St Martin's Press HK$200 There is a paradox common to English-language books about the mainland: fluent native English speakers usually lack the language and cultural savvy to convey the complexity of life on the ground. But 'ZZ', the US-educated, Chinese-born author of China High: My Fast Times in the 010, a Beijing Memoir is a uniquely qualified bicultural interpreter: his sharp eye and law school education are great aids in the distillation of a wash of drugs, parties, sexual encounters and police episodes into a pithy and readable narrative. This is one of the best books you can possibly read for a ground-level view of the 'changing China' phenomenon. ZZ's keen local eye and flawless command of English join forces to provide a tremendously rich, detailed, textured portrait of the mainland, from tea leaves to cigarettes to noodles to nightclubs to traffic. After law school, ZZ lands a spot in the Beijing branch of a prestigious firm. He promptly alienates his colleagues with his bad-boy demeanour. Full submersion in the dubious underside of Beijing's party scene follows, along with a steady diet of hashish, women and clubs. He makes it all look easy until his swagger is dented by his arrest while smoking a joint. When test results come back showing traces of opium, every connection ZZ has can't save him from a stint in prison. This is another side of the mainland few journalists have experienced. After his release from jail ZZ is chastened; he settles down and becomes engaged. Most importantly, he has recorded his romp. Unlike many of his sex-and-drugs peers, ZZ enjoys a high-paying alternative career that requires him to remain anonymous and makes a follow-up impossible. That alone is a rarity among mainland memoirs.