Friday, May 24, 2013

COUNTRY DRIVING by Peter Hessler

By the road in Nevada where our tire shredded 50 miles from the nearest town


An American journalist acquires a Chinese driver's license and explores the back roads, villages, and factory towns of a changing country.


COUNTRY DRIVING is a work of narrative non-fiction divided into three parts. The first section deals with a long road trip along the Great Wall and into the remote parts of western China. Part two is about Hessler's acquisition of a little house in a village outside of Beijing and his relationship with a small family there. The third part follows the life of a bra ring factory in a boom town. Hessler's ability to drive himself around China (in rented cars) makes each section of the story possible and provides a new take on the China travelogue, which so often features train travel. Driving enables him to reach previously inaccessible areas and to experience China's rapid change literally at street level.

I've done several Great American Road Trips (two loops around the West and NY to AZ), and it was interesting to compare those experiences to COUNTRY DRIVING. In the first section of the book in particular, you get the same sense of vastness from Hessler's account of driving across China as you do when driving north through the empty center of Nevada. On the other hand, when Hessler drives into factory towns he witnesses constant change and growth, destruction and rebuilding. In the US, I encountered town after town a generation or two removed from its most recent boom period. The shuttered warehouses and silent mining communities scattered across the countryside must once have felt like the brand new industrial complexes in China, though on a much smaller scale.

Peter Hessler's ability to take the massive subject of China's booming industry and scale it down to a personal level is what makes this book worth reading. If you've been around this blog for a while, you'll know I'm a big Peter Hessler fan. His work is always detailed and well-researched, but it's his understated writing voice that is particularly appealing. He describes the people he meets in China in a respectful and warm manner. He builds friendships with his subjects, and gives human faces to the sometimes staggering statistics associated with modern China.


Here's my review of RIVER TOWN from two years ago and my account of when I shared a taxi with Peter Hessler on the way to his HK International Literary Festival event.


The Kindle edition is $9.99.


How does driving alter your experience of a place compared with walking, taking the train, riding the bus, etc.?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Shannon, Carole's Chatter is currently collecting posts about Favourite Travel Books. This looks like a good one. It would be super if you linked it in. This is the link - Your Favourite Travel Books There are quite a few good links already. I hope to see you soon. Cheers


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