Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
I admit that I tend to overuse "fascinating" in my book reviews, but this is one case where it's warranted. For anyone interested in modern China, Hessler's account of the seven years he spent in the country between 2001 and 2008 is a pleasure to read, providing a real sense of connection between the past and today. From his account of driving along the Great Wall in a rental car, to his experiences living with a rural Chinese family, to his explorations of the life of a new factory town and its inhabitants, I think it's hard for Americans to get a better street-level overview of a nation in transition. Hessler does a fine job of capturing all the little quirks of daily life that outsiders might miss, and touching on the many differences, large and subtle, between Chinese and Western culture. He writes fairly objectively, but doesn't keep himself (and his sense of humor) out of the narrative. The last third of the book, which covers the life and times of a brassiere ring factory in a boom town, is especially fascinating, as it echoes the story of many parts of the United States circa 1900, but in an entirely 21st century, Chinese way.
I'm glad I picked this one up at an Audible sale. Some reviews have complained about the narrator's pronunciation of Chinese names, but I don't speak the language, so that aspect went straight over my head.
Peter Hessler is a good writer. He is a great outside observer of the Chinese culture. Is both understands the culture and still able to keep an outside opinion. I really enjoy how he is able to take situations of panic or normal situations in China and is able to see the historical and culture significance. For example, when he takes the boy to the hospital he describes the tombs of the emperors he drives by. The reader is very good although he does have some difficulties with the Chinese names. Otherwise I would have given him five stars.
Peter Hessler paints quite a vivid picture of what life in China was like in the last decade in the midst of China's economic boom. He write about his experiences driving west following the Great Wall, as well as his life in a rural village outside of Beijing and his visits to factories in Zhejiang province. The writing is fluent and clear. The book will especially appeal to people who have visited China and may have had similar encounters.
The one thing that could have been improved is the narrator, Peter Berkrot's complete butchering of all the Chinese words in the book. The publishers should have hired someone who at least had studied pinyin and can pronounce Chinese words with some fluency. I was lucky to have bought the actual book, so I could look up the cities and words, because I had no idea what he was saying.
After being driven (but not driving ourselves) in China a year ago, I found this book fascinating. It brought back lots of memories and explained some of the regional differences in driving style and etiquette we observed. The only problem is that audiobooks don't have maps!
I am a fan of Peter Hessler, and have enjoyed reading his books in print in the past. But I have to say that listening to this track has been a very trying experience, so much that I actually quit listening and will buy the book in print. A Chinese speaker should not listen to this. I am not a native speaker, but I live in Asia and speak Chinese, and the renderings of Chinese words are incredibly grating and inaccurate. Further more, they're inconsistent. The narrator does not need to learn Chinese, he simply needs to train a bit in pronouncing words that written in Hanyu Pinyin. The accents are also absurd and really bear no relation to Chinese accents. I don't need oddly accented English to let me know a Chinese person is speaking.
Hessler takes us close up to a wide range of situations he "ran into" during his years in China. While the close up stories are rich in detail, don't expect to fully understand China after listening to the entire book.
As someone who has spent two months a year in China for the last three years, I found Peter Hessler's first book "River Town" great as it brought the perspective of someone new to China (Peace Corps volunteer) as well as the perspective of the Chinese in Fuling (Sichuan province) who had not had an American resident in 50 years. His second book "Oracle Bomes" didn't enage me as much as the first but was worth reading, especially as it brought us up to date on some of his students from the first book. Now in his third book called "Country Driving" I got the sense that he said, "Well, what can I write about now?" and so rambled along the great walls, settled in a village and then watched a new factory town spring up. I wish I had stopped at "Oracle Bones" and can not recommend this last book.
Large part of the book talks about the author's experience living in a small village not too far from Beijing. I expected that there would be interesting information about the life in the different parts of China. The book does show certain unique aspects of the life in China but it seemed that was lacking to highlight some key points.