A large part of this book focuses on the author's travels through and past the Gobi desert as he follows a highway from East to West China. He has a number of encounters with Uyghurs, a population of Muslim Chinese whose plights and struggles rarely get mentioned in Western press. Gifford doesn't write a book about the Uyghurs, but rather integrates them into a larger narrative that depicts an expanding and hegemonistic Chinese future.
His knowledge of the people, culture, and language makes this a rare find. If you like the travel-history genre (like Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts) I think you will like this as well.
I haven't read/heard a good travel book in some time but this is a total winner. I gained a lot of insights into China. Simon Vance provides just the right tone to the reading. Highly recommended for anyone prepping for a China trip. You won't be sorry.
I'm not sure if it was expressive use of language to communicate the essence of what it was to be on the road and in the desert, but Gifford's writing seems to drag at the end.
I enjoyed the first 3/4 of the book, but as he writes of the boredom of the desert crossing, his prose becomes as dull. Actually, it felt kinda meta: feeling bored by a description of boredom.
This happened again less than an hour from the end of the book (I checked the time figuring the book must be ending soon--not a good sign when you check the time remaining) as he explained that the end of his journey felt anti-climactic. I sighed, the end of the book itself seemed anti-climactic.
That being said, he did redeem himself a bit to wrap up the book, but I might have been happier to end my listening at the 3/4 mark.
Good first half, though, yep. Interesting characters, description, explanation and insight into areas of Chinese politics and culture I didn't know much about. not a thorough history but a series of observations and personal anecdotes from individuals in China--as seen through Gifford's journalist eyes.
This book is an in-depth vacation without the expense! Rob Gifford did a great job of presenting the many sides and often contradictory nation that is China. He provides enough explanation of the culture and history of the country, along with his own personal insights to his interviews from the road to make them really engaging, informative, and poignant.
I think he also does a really good job of expressing his emotions with the nation, without forcing them on the reader. This book is very personal and about his own experiences with the nation.
Route 312 goes from Shanghai on the coast to the Kazakhstan border, and the author's trip down this road by bus, taxi, and foot provides a fascinating slice throught 21st century China. Gifford's views balance the tremendous optimism and change in China today to its fragility, lack of political checks and balances, and social inequity. Required reading for anyone who thinks China's ascendancy is guaranteed.
I just returned from a 3 week trip to China. My son and I went far into remote China with little knowledge of the language and spent a good deal of time looking out the window of our bus. Some days that was 5 hours some days 9 hours. I never tired of the bus ride as i listened and re-listened to this wonderful book. As I listened I watched the magnificent south western part of China unfold before my eyes.
This is a wonderful book on China in modern times and what is happening there. I just finished this book when the Earthquake hit right thru the provinces that I had been reading about. I am now listening to it and love that also.
An excellent book made even better with an excellent narration. This book was everything I wanted and more. I have a high degree of interest in China and this book has been extremely helpful and enjoyable. The author and narrator combine to make this book a very pleasant experience.