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Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West Paperback – May 7, 2013


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (May 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062206230
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062206237
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Hessler started out wanting to be a novelist, then drifted into journalism, taking with him a deep appreciation for storytelling and a love for the details of life. As Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker for seven years, he got a firsthand look at the travails of its modernization. In this collection of stories from China, Japan, Nepal, and the U.S., he offers an engaged outsider’s perspective, as absorbed with meeting people—including migrants and transplants—as with detailing geography and politics. The collection rambles, with no chronological order, as Hessler relays visits to competing restaurants in Guangdong Province famous for their rat dishes; the closing of the Three Gorges Dam; how the Olympics brought even more radical change to Beijing, a city already grappling with sudden modernity; hiking the Great Wall of China with an American expatriate; the peaceful transition of Chinese leadership; and visiting a Peace Corps enthusiast in Nepal pushing for a higher profile for the overseas service agency. Hessler also profiles basketball player Yao Ming, the pride of China. --Vanessa Bush

From Bookforum

While the pivots can seem jarring, these articles, which originally appeared in The New Yorker between 2002 and 2012, hang together like tracks on a well-done mixtape. Strange Stones refers to Chinese rocks, some natural, some carved, that look like other things—a head of cabbage, a rhinoceros. Hessler's subjects share that quality: Look once, and the rise of the Yangtze is an ecological and humanitatian disaster. Look again, and it doesn't seem so bad compared with the political and economic tragedies many adults across China have lived through. —Christopher Beam

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

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Peter Hessler is a wonderful writer, a good story teller and he knows China.
Norma Egan
Hessler's talent for capturing the essence of a culture through observations of everyday life is unique.
Professor Jim
Anyone who is interested in other places and other times will be greatly rewarded by reading this book.
MSWu

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Yan Li on May 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
I have read all his books.
I am a Chinese who have been living in Canada for years. And honestly I think I have learnt so much about my own country through a foreigner's eyes than on my own. There is something about his books that just get my attention. As you are going through the books,it feels like chatting with him on your front porch. He is a hell of a story teller,he depicts everything in a simple manner. And he is always being very objective on sensitive issues; he did give his opinions, but never once was I being offended by his comment.
I am surprised he published the 4th book on China. You'd think a trilogy is a happy ending. I just finished the second chapter; still the same Peter Hessler styles- Chinese sense of humor; unique perspective throughout chapters; but honestly since he has been away from China or he simply shift his attention to elsewhere, there isn't much new stuff in the book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By bittermelon on October 4, 2013
Format: Paperback
Let me start off by saying that Hessler is a very good writer and reporter. His essays give readers a deep understanding of the subject matter. This is a collection of his essays, most of which are about his time living in China. If you have read his previous three books on his life in China, many of these essays cover old grounds. Each of the pieces here can be read independently, since they do not have a central theme. The book is not nearly as compelling as his other three books. It's OK to good, but not excellent.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Norma Egan on June 3, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Peter Hessler is a wonderful writer, a good story teller and he knows China. The people of China want what the American people want, a good education for their children, a decent place to live, work and a fair wage to make life easier. Mr Hessler takes us out into the country where factories are built almost over night. The factory workers are the youth of China - old is twenty-eight. The factory becomes their home - they live upstairs and work downstairs, for long hours with little free time. Mr Hessler writes about many different aspects of China today and of going home to the USA after twenty years of teaching, writing and traveling in China. He sees America afresh and it's fun to read his observations.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jean Gross on June 18, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Peter Hessler writes in the same vein-- essay-wise-- as John McPhee. (McPhee actually was his professor and mentor.) But, Hessler may inject more humor and heart into his pieces--not that they're ever saccharine.

This is quite a collection, mostly essays about China and few about other places. The China essays, in some cases, feel a bit dated--only because China is still changing so quickly. The "driving" essays are probably not as true today as they were ten years ago, but the characteristics of the people probably haven't changed much. ( We always get a feel for the people. Read the title essay "Strange Stones" for this.)

Some of the essays that involve Hessler's Peace Corps buddies are really good and make you wonder why the Peace Corps isn't doing as well as it used to. ( Hessler has some answers for this.) His profiled friends in these Peace Corps pieces are remarkable people.

One of the best essays is the final piece titled " Dr. Don" about a pharmacist in a remote town in the American West. ( I read this previously in " The New Yorker ", but it was just as good this time around.) We get to know the pharmacist, and we get a wonderful picture not only of him but of the town, the town's "characters" and the town's way of life. If you read this essay first, you will be impelled to read more of Hessler's work, which he infuses with kindness and gentle humor and no hubris.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Yifan Wang on August 17, 2013
Format: Paperback
Since the very first book of Peter Hessler "River Town", I have tried to read all his writing. There are great ones on New Yorker Magazine and finally they've been complied into this book. Besides China, it's intriguing to read stories from Japan and Colorado.
"Go West" is my favorite one. I have wondered why they picked Colorado as their US home.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David A. Herzog on July 6, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book expecting to find a narrative of life today in the far east. Instead, I got a collection of anecdotal tales of life in China, Japan, and Colorado, some of which are thought provoking, and some of which are hilarious. Peter Hessler is one heck of a storyteller!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By MSWu on June 27, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I never miss any writings by Peter Hessler. This one is another great Hessler book. He is a keen observer with true interest in the people and the place he observes. As a first rate journalist, he has ingenious and diligent ways of getting to the heart of his subjects. His writing has a nice flow with wonderful understated humor. I have read some of the articles in this book on New Yorker and enjoyed them again. Anyone who is interested in other places and other times will be greatly rewarded by reading this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By James Denny on June 14, 2013
Format: Paperback
Paying homage to author and Princeton Professor John McPhee, (in this case, his very own professor), author Peter Hessler has assembled a montage of short tales that are culture-specific and place-focused. The majority of the tales come from contemporary mainland China, i.e., "Boomtown Girl," although several tales come from elsewhere, one from Japan about Yakuza (crime) culture and several from the American West. Hessler's short story about the Yakuza provides more insight into how the Yakuza fill a key niche in Japan's economy and culture than volumes of analytical text could.

The opening tale is about two competing "rat restaurants," in a small Chinese city renown for its rat-based cuisine. There are stories about the Great Wall of China, i.e., "Walking the Wall," about car culture and the sudden rise of automobile assembly in China. There is much humor in all his stories. In discussing an automobile accident which results in the death of a dog, no concern was shown for the dog, probably a stray. Of importance, however, was whether the dog was in a condition to be salvaged, i.e., could it picked up, thrown into the trunk, taken home, cooked and eaten?

One of the American West stories centers on the decline and fall of uranium mining in a southwestern Colorado town. It's a tragic tale where the decline in the economy unexpectedly trumps the health and suffering of those who had engaged in mining uranium "yellow-cake" during the War years.

Late in "Strange Stones," Hessler, running as the phantom character, "Peter Chang" unexpectedly wins the Las Vegas Half-Marathon. Long-distance runners will appreciate this version of the infamous Rosie Ruiz "win" of the Boston Marathon.

Hessler has a parsimonious style of writing. He wrings out maximum effect. He has a knack for the right turn-of-phrase. As a reader, your main regret is that when the last story is read, there are no more.
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