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River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.) Paperback – April 25, 2006


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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 402 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Later Printing edition (April 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060855029
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060855024
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (294 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,352 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

More About the Author

Peter Hessler is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he served as Beijing correspondent from 2000-2007, and is also a contributing writer for National Geographic. He is the author of RIVER TOWN, which won the Kiriyama Book Prize, and ORACLE BONES, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He won the 2008 National Magazine Award for excellence in reporting.

Customer Reviews

This book should be read by anyone interested in modern China.
Amazon's Lowest Rated Reviewer
After living in China for over two years, I found Peter's book to be very insightful to the "Chinese Characteristics" of the Chinese people.
Steve McIntosh
Peter Hessler writes with the perfect combination of clarity, style, and humor that makes any books of his a great read.
Adam Chiou

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

211 of 215 people found the following review helpful By Matthew M. Yau on March 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
In his concluding remarks of River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Peter Hessler points us to the nub of his experience in China:
"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.
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88 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Rui Zhu on February 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Humane and observant. I was thoroughly impressed by the author's willingness to share his life with the ordinary Chinese, for I know it is difficult to do.
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!
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68 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Elisabeth W. Movius on September 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
Modern China is a place ripe with ironies, and among the greatest of them is them is that the Chinese have no sense of irony. It takes an understanding outsider to appreciate these ironic idiosyncracies that Chinese themselves are so oblivious to, and a gifted and sensative writer to portray them without resorting to caricature or mockery.
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.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
As a young Chinese-American who has traveled in China, River Town has quickly become one of my favorite books. Peter Hessler is both thoughtful and descriptive of his experiences as a PCV in China. I especially loved the parts of the book in which he talked about his students...he really brings them to life. It's easy to see that they changed his life as much as he impacted theirs.
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.
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