Thursday, February 11, 2010

New Book on China from Peter Hessler

Several years ago I read a wonderful book about China called River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, by Peter Hessler, the first book in his trilogy about the human side of the economic revolution in China. Hessler came to China as a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching English and American literature at a local college. River Town was named a NY Times Notable book and won the Kiriyama Book Prize.

From 2000 to 2007, he served as the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, during which time he wrote the second book in the trilogy, Oracle Bones, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. In 2008 he won the National Magazine Award for excellence in reporting. Now serving as a staff writer for The New Yorker, as well as a contributing writer for National Geographic, Hessler has written the third and final book in the trilogy: Country Driving: A Journey through China from Farm to Factory.

In the summer of 2001, Hessler acquired his Chinese driver's license. For the next seven years he traveled the country, tracking how the automobile and improved roads were transforming China, journeys he chronicles in Country Driving. The book opens with his 7000-mile trip across northern China, following the Great Wall, from the East China Sea to the Tibetan plateau. Hessler has a keen eye for detail and for contradiction and an ability to present the effect of sweeping changes in personal, human-scale stories, enabling readers to understand more clearly the changes taking place in this oft-misunderstood country.

I read an excerpt from Country Driving in The New Yorker, and I am eager to read the new book, which was just published this week. Hessler writes with compassion and empathy, knowledge, and a sense of humor, making his books a delight to read.

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