River Town Paperback – Dec 13 2001
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In 1996, 26-year-old Peter Hessler arrived in Fuling, a town on China's Yangtze River, to begin a two-year Peace Corps stint as a teacher at the local college. Along with fellow teacher Adam Meier, the two are the first foreigners to be in this part of the Sichuan province for 50 years. Expecting a calm couple of years, Hessler at first does not realize the social, cultural, and personal implications of being thrust into a such radically different society. In River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Hessler tells of his experience with the citizens of Fuling, the political and historical climate, and the feel of the city itself.
"Few passengers disembark at Fuling ... and so Fuling appears like a break in a dream--the quiet river, the cabins full of travelers drifting off to sleep, the lights of the city rising from the blackness of the Yangtze," says Hessler. A poor city by Chinese standards, the students at the college are mainly from small villages and are considered very lucky to be continuing their education. As an English teacher, Hessler is delighted with his students' fresh reactions to classic literature. One student says of Hamlet, "I don't admire him and I dislike him. I think he is too sensitive and conservative and selfish." Hessler marvels,
You couldn't have said something like that at Oxford. You couldn't simply say: I don't like Hamlet because I think he's a lousy person. Everything had to be more clever than that ... you had to dismantle it ... not just the play itself but everything that had ever been written about it.Over the course of two years, Hessler and Meier learn more they ever guessed about the lives, dreams, and expectations of the Fuling people.
Hessler's writing is lovely. His observations are evocative, insightful, and often poignant--and just as often, funny. It's a pleasure to read of his (mis)adventures. Hessler returned to the U.S. with a new perspective on modern China and its people. After reading River Town, you'll have one, too. --Dana Van Nest --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In China, the year 1997 was marked by two momentous events: the death of Deng Xiaoping, the country's leader for two decades, and the return of Hong Kong after a century and a half of British rule. A young American who spent two years teaching English literature in a small town on the Yangtze, Hessler observed these events through two sets of eyes: his own and those of his alter ego, Ho Wei. Hessler sees China's politics and ceremony with the detachment of a foreigner, noting how grand political events affect the lives of ordinary people. The passing of Deng, for example, provokes a handful of thoughtful and unexpected essays from Hessler's students. The departure of the British from Hong Kong sparks a conversational "Opium War" between him and his nationalist Chinese tutor. Meanwhile, Ho Wei, as Hessler is known to most of the townspeople, adopts a friendly and unsophisticated persona that allows him to learn the language and culture of his surroundings even as Hessler's Western self remains estranged. The author conceives this memoir of his time in China as the collaborative effort of his double identity. "Ho Wei," he writes, "left his notebooks on the desk of Peter Hessler, who typed everything into his computer. The notebooks were the only thing they truly shared." Yet it's clear that, for Hessler, Ho Wei is more than a literary device: to live in China, he felt compelled to subjugate his real identity to a character role. Hessler has already been assured the approval of a select audience thanks to the New Yorker's recent publication of an excerpt. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Some books that have been written have also tried specifically to address the political issues of this vast country. It is more interesting to someone who is not a professional protestor/ academic to see what happens in practice when some of the Romanticized Sacred Cows of Academics are implemented in Real Life (see: Communism, Authoritarianism, Big Government). This is also not taken from the perspective of people that are constantly whining about Human Rights.
In my opinion, the author does a good job of not reinterpreting China in terms of some of these Sacred Cows, be they of whoever.
The prose is clear, elegant and not overwrought with detail. But the reading is not overly light, either. It's just the things that any person would think about if they came here to teach. Or that any person might want to know if they wanted a perspective of China independent of political slants of any type.
Really, this book is a testimony to the value of paying attention. I am sure that many folks living and working in situations similar to Peter Hessler's would have their own stories to tell. But so often we are fooled by the seeming ordinariness of our own mundane existence. So we live our lives endlessly, day by day without writing the story. Listen to me: If your life isn't worth writing a book about, you're doing something wrong. Change. Move. Do something. But become someone or be in the process of becoming someone that decent folks would really enjoy reading about some day.Read more ›
Much is written by others about this book. It is a piece of narrative non-fiction. As such it reads like a novel. A real page turner!
My wife is Chinese. I have spent some time in China. But at a different place (Guangxi province) and time (ten years later). I certainly share Mr. Hessing's attitude towards the hospitality and friendliness of the Chinese people. As he mentions: it is hard to imagine that very many Americans (or Canadians) would invite an odd foreigner into their home after meeting him on the street for the first time. Although I don't speak Chinese they made me feel warm and comfortable in their homes. Mr. Hessing learned to speak Chinese and had an even richer experience for it.
In all the saber rattling towards China, few North Americans seem to appreciate that the Chinese are normal people with hopes and aspirations like all of us. Communism does not change that. This book paints a picture of common Chinese folks. It is required reading for anyone interested in Chinese sociology or, for that matter, anyone interested in a good read. Perhaps Mr. Hessing is the Dashan for the common folk (just joking Mr. Hessing!).
Hessler's first year in Fuling is characterized by culture shock, disillusionment and a stubborn refusal to give up on his goal of learning to read and speak Chinese. He is shocked by the brainwashing of his students, by their intelligence and insightfulness when they are dealing with subjects that they don't have preprogrammed responses to. He struggles with the isolation imposed on him by the rest of the faculty, and begins to make forays into the hills just to get away from the regemented college routine, pollution and crowding.
In his second year, his Chinese improves and he begins to make friends in Fuling. He is still frustrated by attempts to control what he teaches, still struggles to understand his students' behavior, but he has begun to find his way in this strange new land. He makes friends with two of the professors, is befriended by a family in town and by a few of the people who have stopped to talk with him. On his breaks he travels to other parts of China. He hikes back into the hills for a second year and talks to the farmers.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
I recently travelled on a Yangtze cruise as well as touring other parts of China. This book was recommended to us by staff on the cruise. Read morePublished on Aug. 21 2013 by david white
Having traveled frequently to China myself, Peter Hessler is providing great detail on Chinese society in rural areas like the city of Fuling. Read morePublished on June 25 2011 by herman bijl
Peter Hessler spent two years working as a Peace Corps volunteer while teaching literature in the remote Sichuan province in southern China in the late 1990's. Read morePublished on July 7 2004 by S. Calhoun
The man is very good at observing human behavior and even better at writing about it. I was very sad when I hit the last page of this very enjoyable read. 'Nuff said!Published on June 25 2004
This spring I found myself totally engrossed in a New Yorker article by Peter Hessler. I didn't look up throughout the commute - eyes glued to the page as I navigated myself from... Read morePublished on June 25 2004 by A buyer from the west coast
River Town was a truly interesting book that put me into Peter Hesslers shoes and introduced me to a culture I knew very little about. Read morePublished on June 10 2004 by Scot
I was so sad to finish reading this book! It is definitely one of the best books that I have read in a long time! Read morePublished on May 17 2004 by meggin8D
It had been a long time since I picked up a non fiction book and actually found it intersting. Hessler's book is a fascinating description of a Princeton and Oxford graduate... Read morePublished on April 22 2004 by Justin Holmes