Wednesday, March 9, 2011
RIVER TOWN by Peter Hessler
A Peace Corps volunteer spends two years teaching English literature in Fuling on the Yangtze River and gets to know the local people and the language.
This is a thoughtful and elegant travel memoir. Peter Hessler makes astute observations about the rapidly changing China with patience and grace. He makes a concerted effort to understand his environment and the people around him. He is honest about how his opinions are influenced by his Western worldview, while still looking critically at the Communist system.
The book includes many writing samples from Hessler's students. These provide a unique look at the concerns and opinions of young people in China in the late 1990s. He writes about his own experiences in Fuling, but for the majority of the book he focuses on other people and their lives. This is a refreshing change from the current trend in travel memoirs to focus entirely on one's own struggles.
Hessler's writing style is rhythmic and rich with description, and he brings the river town to life with humor and honesty. He peppers his work with literary references and poetic analogies that are particularly welcome in a work of narrative non-fiction. Additionally, he demonstrates a genuine appreciation for literature and its ability to connect people no matter where they are.
National Geographic interview with Hessler, who remained in China and wrote from Beijing for many years
Kindle edition: $10.99
To what extent is it possible to assimilate into a new culture, especially as an adult? Do you think an outsider can ever truly understand a new country?
*Note: This author is being featured in the Hong Kong International Literary Festival