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River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.) Paperback – April 25, 2006
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"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
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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"I had never had any idealistic illusions about my Peace Corps 'service' in China; I wasn't there to save anybody or leave an indelible mark on the town. If anything, I was glad that during my two years in Fuling I hadn't built anything, or organized anything, or made any great changes to the place. I had been a teacher, and in my spare time I had tried to learn as much as possible about the city and its people. That was the extent of my work, and I was comfortable with those roles and I recognized their limitations."
In fall 1996, Peter Hessler, at the age of 26, took a Peace Corps assignment that relocated him to a small town in the Sichuan province of China. Many natives let alone a young American who made his inaugural entrance into the country did not know and hear of Fuling. It's a former coal-mining town that is bounded by the Yangtze and the Wu. Chongqing and the Three Gorges are just hours away by boats. The book chronicles, in a rather casual but detailed way, Peter's teaching experience at the Fuling Education College and his life and anecdotes in town. Interwoven into Peter's diary are descriptions of local landmarks and customs. This book is by far the most passionate and yet accurate and objective account written any foreigners. Peter really does possess a keen sense of his surroundings. Throughout his crisp, interesting prose and attention to details, the Chinese 'laobaixing' (common people) become alive as if we are actually interacting with them.
I am in awe of how far Peter has gone in making meticulous observations of the Chinese culture and its people. A lot of what he mentions in this book is often overlooked by foreigners.Read more ›
Exactly because of that, many of his poignant remarks and analyses did not bother me at all. In fact, I envy him, for I cannot observe in the same way as he did, simply because I am a Chinese. I know he is so right on the numbness of the people who could quickly gather into a crowd over any stanger's suffering, so right about the linguistic violence to women done by the Chinese language, and so right about the senseless macho baijiu culture among men. I could have made the remarks, too, but I know they would lack the same sad humaneness. I do not have his detachment and therefore his penetrativeness.
There was a haunting scene of Father Li's conversing in Latin with the author's own father, while the author was standing by and watching. Like the book itself, this scene shows that any barrier between peoples and men is either false or self-imposed or downright intellectual sloth. I really respect Peter Hessler!
River Town is the most honest and insightful portrayal I have read of China in the late 1990s. Although it takes a small town in Sichuan as its focus, most of Hessler's astute observations are applicable to the rest the country, from metropolis to village. The book is not so much a travelogue as a 'socialogue'.
Personally, having lived elsewhere in China during the same periods that the book describes in Fuling, I found myself nodding in agreement throughout the book, and laughing aloud in many a section. Hessler's characterizations, both of China and of how a Westerner changes after a few years in China, are dead on.
River Town is the best book available for getting a sense of what China is like, on the most basic level, and explains why we who live here simultaneously love and despise the place. If you are an old China Hand, you will love this book. If you are a total novice to the subject, you couldn't find a more accurate and enjoyable introduction.
I also found Hessler's acclimation to his environment particularly fascinating. His reactions to new and sometimes delicate cultural situations reflects his laidback attitude, but is also telling of how willing he was to be apart of Fuling culture and society. He is also brutally honest, even with his own shortcomings in the face of his new experiences.
It's true, he does come to the book with a Westerner's perspective, but then again, what do you expect? His love for China, however, and his willingness to engage the people in Fuling...to take on a Chinese identity, speaks louder than any detached political analysis could. He simply writes about his reflections, and I appreciate the honesty.
I plan to give this book to all my friends who have moved to and travelled in China. It's definitely one of the best books I have read in a loooong time.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
After taking a 3-day river cruise on the Yangtze, this book really was fascinating I'm not sure I would have cared to be in the Peace Corps there however. Read morePublished 2 days ago by Kenneth W. Craw, Jr.
So many great insights about Sichuan city life that still hold truePublished 4 days ago by Christopher Lee
Everyone in our book group loved "River Town"!
I learned so much about China, particularly where PH was in the peace corps and how much he learned in the 2 yrs... Read more
I read all of Peter Hessler's books and New Yorker articles (and look forward to reading his middle eastern books when published). Read morePublished 1 month ago by J Risner
By far the best book I've read this year — and a total surprise. Brilliantly and beautifully written, funny, insightful, poignant, heartwarming, account of the author's two years... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Ann Sherwin
This memoir does indeed take you to the river, and drop you in the water. The prose is slow and meandering, winding its way through the author's years in China. Read morePublished 1 month ago by 1Tun
Peter Heasler is one of my most favorite writers. This book is about his experiences as a Peace Corps worker in China. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
I am not aware of any other writer who has written anything even remotely as informative and interesting about the realities of daily living for Chinese citizens. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Fearless Fed