I purchased this book to listen for a class and I most appreciated having the narrator's pronunciation of people and place names. I also had the hard copy of the book, but did little reading from it as it tripped me up when I would run into the foreign place names. The narrator made it flow nicely with (what I hope is) accurate pronunciation.
Also, I appreciated the subtle variances in tone used when reading speech versus Hessler's writing. This made it easy to understand. Hessler had his own voice and the different characters had their own other voices which were easily distinguishable as the book went on, which could potentially be very confusing after 18 hours.
I appreciated being presented with a view of China that most Americans like myself do not have the chance to see, as Hessler did. He often seemed to take on a very authoritative approach that was borderline arrogant, because he is definitely not a native of the country and can never get that same experience, although he seems like he is trying to present the material as if he did live as a Chinese-born person.
Also, his writing is heavily bias against the Chinese government. This would go along with his desire to come off as a Chinese native, but as a reader we are clearly hearing about his experience as a travel writer. It seems as though he is trying to take on contradictory identities. As a travel writer, I expected a little bit more objectivity.
I appreciate extending sympathy to people who are struggling. The way he communicates with his students during and after his teaching in China is very wonderful and was my favorite part of the book. It seemed, however, that he was trying to do more with this book than just relay his experience. It seemed like he was trying to make some big statement about China, and this did not seem to be quite the right outlet, or something seemed to be off in the delivery--maybe I just cannot put my finger on it. It just seemed that there was a tone of arrogance, as I said, as if he were trying to be more political than necessary about the book. Just hearing about a person's humble experience is what I prefer.
There was a lot of information about archaeology and history which was admirable in this book as well, but some of it got so intertwined with Hessler's opinions that it was difficult to separate out the facts.
At the end of the 18 hours I am glad to have made the time investment in the book. It was not something I would have chosen on my own, but hearing the stories about the different people have stuck with me. For the most part, the facts and information did not really grab (for reasons I already mentioned). The people, however, were outstanding and it was fascinating to hear their stories.
I was the most fascinated by the way the narrator could subtly communicate a female Chinese character's voice--of which there are several. Even among the different ones, variances in age and academia were performed well in the delivery.
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