Though this narrative is almost 15 years old (Hessler worked for the Peace Corps in the late 1990's), and that seems a long time ago at the frantic pace of change in present day China, most of the observations seem relevant today, especially those addressing the human dimension. The narrator has a young 20s male voice, a bit on the nasal side, but reading at a lively and varied rhythm. He is great at making distinct voices for different characters. As is often the case with books on China, this reader mispronounces many Chinese names, but it's a minor issue. He has a good sense for dramatic pauses and for getting "in character." It's easy to mistakenly think that you're listening to the author himself.
Interesting pursuit (tracking a Chinese businessman who went from rag-to-riches before succumbing a to bitter downfall).
None in particular.
All were OK.
The Chinese government's level of reaction to its runaway economy, in contrast to the old-school form of centralized planning and top-down controlling from the communist-Mao-era that seemed to dictate the future of the country.
The topic, Americans teaching in China, intrigued me, but the writer's insight remained superficial.
To learn more about this topic, I'll turn to other books, blogs, and resources on this topic (because this book is light on depth and breadth).
The conversational writing style facilitated the listening experience, but sometimes tipped into a gossipy tone with light substance. It frustrated me to get more insight into the writer's narrow American cultural vision and into her mid-life crisis than into the Chinese culture. For my taste, it felt a bit too self-centered and shallow, as if this trip to China was mostly a feel-good manicure to heal the author's mood. Regrettably, we don't feel much of her investment into her missions (helping Chinese students improve their English, being an ambassador of her culture), and she shares little about her classroom experiences.
The reader articulates well, but she has a mild case of a California Valley Girl accent that reinforces the superficial overtone of the text (further highlighting the book's weakness). The production is sub-par because the silent pauses at the end of chapters are cut down too short, and it creates run-on sentences that combine the last sentence of a chapter and the title of the next chapter (confusing!). These too-short pauses occur in other places in the text. Otherwise, the audio quality is good.
For the same topic, and a much better book (with more insight, cultural comparisons, teaching experiences, stronger prose, etc.), pick Peter Hessler's River Town. If you're still hungry for more, and can be satisfied with a light fare next, try this book.
Rob Gifford shares insight on China from years of experiences living in the Middle Kingdom. His East to West trip includes revealing anecdotes about the lives and values of Chinese people in various regions. He talks about his encounters with Chinese Amway entrepreneurs, muslim minorities, an abortion nurse and her assistant, AIDS whistle-blowers, long-haul truck drivers, a talk radio female star, and other intriguing types. The style is in line with the NPR reporting tone: it comes across as poised, respectful, but without much wit or intensity. Overall, a pleasant and revealing book. Gifford's prognostics at the end of his book are so far spot on. Four years after he wrote his book, several of the events he anticipated have happened, such as the peasant pushbacks and the tenuous financial balance with the real estate excesses.
The reading too is calm, but not monotonous at all -- a bit soothing, yet active enough to stay interesting. A clear delivery, clean recording, and a hint of a British accent.
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