A man travels around China and discovers that it is more complicated and crowded than he anticipated.
This is a detailed and interesting travel narrative about a man who decides to explore modern China without being fully prepared for the drastic changes that have occurred there in recent years. He expects a Cold War-like communist country and instead he finds a nation in the throes of lightning fast industrial development. He finds pollution, blatant capitalism and crowds everywhere he turns. He meets a confident, nationalistic people who know they are gearing up to be the new economic powerhouse where he expected to see chronic poverty.
China is a complicated and enormous country, and trying to understand it, especially while traveling through it and not living there, is a difficult task. It is probably not fair to compare this book to RIVER TOWN because Peter Hessler is one of my heroes, but I think Troost lacked a lot of the humility and patience that made Hessler's work so compelling. He makes astute outsider's observations, but he is providing a survey of the country, not an in-depth look at the people. By the way, Hong Kong is very different from China, so I am not suggesting that I know China either.
Troost's voice is funny and irreverent. He does not shy away from talking about the least savory practices and problems in China, though he does have a tendency to exaggerate. He has very strong political opinions, and in this case they actually made the book feel unnecessarily dated. Although I found the book fascinating, there are better books out there if you want to understand China a little bit better rather than just marvel at how alien it can be.
Here's an interview with J. Maarten Troost on Rolf Potts' website.
$10.99 for the Kindle edition
What images do you associate with China? What do you think shapes your perception of China?