A century ago, outsiders saw China as a place where nothing ever changes. Today, the country has become one of the most dynamic regions on earth. In Oracle Bones, Peter Hessler explores the human side of China's transformation, viewing modern-day China and its growing links to the Western world through the lives of a handful of ordinary people. In a narrative that gracefully moves between the ancient and the present, the East and the West, Hessler captures the soul of a country that is undergoing a momentous change before our eyes.
©2007 Peter Hessler (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
“A brilliant observer with a novelist’s ear for character and dialogue, Hessler is both fascinating and funny.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“A remarkable travelogue documenting aspects of a country still little understood.” (Kirkus)
“Engaging.... Acutely observed, moving, frequently funny and a perspicacious X-ray of China’s zeitgeist.” (South China Morning Post)
Oracle Bones is another excellent book from Peter Hessler. He writes from a unique and insightful perspective. He has lived in China for many years; beginning as an English teacher at a Chinese college. He has remained in close touch with his former students, whose own experiences in working after graduation in the ???New China??? form an important part of the book. Mr. Hessler has also been accredited as a foreign correspondent in China for the New Yorker magazine. As a writer of magazine articles, he has been free to develop stories and themes at much greater length and depth than would have been possible as a reporter for a daily newspaper. In my view that is a big plus for his readers.
His books reflect first hand experiences and conversations with Chinese residents (not all of them native Chinese, by the way) from various walks of life, many of whom he can consider good friends. They also reflect extensive interview notes, some scholarly research, and a whimsical eye for things comic and ironic in everyday life. Mr. Hessler also shares poignant conversations with Chinese who experienced the trials and terrors of the 1960???s ???Cultural Revolution??? and the earlier ???Anti-Rightist??? campaign of the late 1950???s.
As readers we are fortunate that Mr. Hessler has developed considerable literary talent. The writing is clear, suited to the humor or poignancy of the events or conversations he is describing, and has a personal tone that allows us to share his fascination and feelings in what he is seeing and hearing.
I loved this book. The scope of it surprised me with its look at history, culture and day-to-day life. You certainly can't understand everything about China by reading a couple of books, but this book and Hessler's River Town have made China a little more accessible for me. The narrator, I believe, did a great job. He sounds like a native english speaker reading for other native english speakers.
If you are interested in Chinese/China, this book is really good. The only problem is the narrator thoroughly an completely butchers the Chinese words in this otherwise terrific audio book.
To be fair to the narrator, his voice is interesting and expressive. It's just the Chinese language parts that do him in. Maybe if I did not speak Chinese I would not care so much.
However, as a Chinese Language and Lit graduate who lived in Asia for a few years, I was taken away with this book. The author is great. I will look for other books from Peter Hessler.
This is my most favorite book so far. I do not speak chinese, so I would not know how the pronunciation is on certain words, but the performance and the storyline was amazing for me.
The struggles of each of the main roles. Its hard to find one moment.
I enjoyed this book so much, that I have bought the hardcopy as well. Having audio is nice for me since I am not able to allocate much time for reading, but this book was such a good story, that I was happy to buy the hard copy as well. (Make sure I did not miss anything)
I don't even recall why I bought this book. I found it on my IPAD as something half lost in titles and just thought since I had paid for it I would get it out of the way. I spent the next five days in wonderland! What an amazing writer. The best performance EVER for a reading. I traveled the world into universes I never knew existed! China now became a reality for me. I had an agenda to read a group of other books after this as my attention had been swayed in another direction, but once I finished this, that was all forgotten. I had to go back and buy every book this writer has written and the reader has performed. I feel bridged into a country and a culture thousands of miles away from me. I feel I have traveled although I never left my home. I feel I skipped all over the universe although I have been sitting in one neighborhood. THIS is why I read!
Say something about yourself!
The author was a reporter of sorts in China and this is the account of his life there over 10 years. Very interesting view of culture and history. I enjoyed all of it.
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.
Hessler writes a wide ranging and incisive account of China at the turn of the 21st century. He is able to present much of the dystopian craziness of China while still humanizing individuals that he encounters. The narrator, however brings the book down. His reading of Hessler's narration and thoughts is fine, and his mispronunciation of Chinese (i.e. Mao Zhidong) is forgivable, but his "Chinese" voice is truly awful and distracting from the narrative.
The storylines about Chen Menjia and Polat are not enjoyable. Without them this would have been a much better book.
No, I would not recommend it. There are better books by Hessler and China in general than this one.
The narrator's pronounciation of Chinese words and names is very bad and the silly accents he uses for the dialogue of some of the characters is highly annoying.
Peter Hessler’s ‘River Town’ was one of the first books I read about China and I loved it, partially because I was working as a volunteer in China at the time and many things were very recognisable. Based on ‘River Town’ and some longread articles by Hessler I have read since I was having high expectations for the follow up ‘Oracle Bones’. Having finished it, I’m quite disappointed.
‘Oracle Bones’ is almost like reading four intertwining books. The problem is that three of those are not all that interesting. The best parts of the book concern Hessler’s work as a journalist and the interactions he has with China. At times Hessler himself might be a bit too prominent a protagonist but there’s also chapters on some of his students from the ‘River Town’ book and other characters. These chapters help you understand China from the perspective of young adults and their personal ambitions and challenges. Some of these chapters have been published before in The New Yorker (and can be found on their website) and thereby sometimes make the book feel rather fragmented, missing the flow of a real story like ‘River Town’. They does however make for some fun and interesting reading, like in the chapters where Hessler stays in a hotel near the North-Korean border and gets a visit from a burglar (later reprinted in the ‘Unsavory Elements’ anthology) or the chapter in which he accidentally stumbles into a village where local elections are taking place. Chapters on Shenzhen, the Chinese reactions to the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia and 9/11, radio-show hostess Hu Xiaomei, actor-director Jiang Wen, the old couple who refuse to move for a development project, Deng’s reform and opening up and Taiwan were also enjoyable.
The other three storylines in the book are supposed to solve the mentioned problem of continuity and create a connecting thread. Throughout the book there are historical artefacts that Hessler describes. Many of these might not be all that interesting to anybody who’s not a China history buff. The artefact sections lead into the storyline about the search for the personal history of oracle bone scholar Chen Mengjia. Besides the stories about the horrors of the Cultural Revolution I found the whole Chen storyline dragging and uninteresting.
Finally there’s the storyline of Polat, a Uyghur who migrates to the United States by pretending to be a political refugee and forging some documents. Most of Polat’s story has little to do with China and it’s difficult to feel compassion for the character. As a matter of fact, one almost feels he got what he deserved when his life becomes harder when public sentiments change after the 9/11 attacks.
The book would probably have been more appealing without the artefact sections, the Chen Mengjia and Polat storylines. Although it would have felt more like a collection of Hessler’s articles for The New Yorker (and you might actually be better of reading them in the online archive of The New) but it would be a much more enjoyable read. Alternatively, check out the book ‘Age of Ambition’ by Hessler’s New Yorker colleague Evan Osnos, which does a much better job of describing China and recycling some of his New Yorker own articles.
On the audio book:
Although I did own the e-book book I ended up listening to ‘Oracle Bones’ as an audio book in the car. The audio book suffers from two big issues. First, the narrator’s pronunciation of Chinese names and words is dreadful. At times I had to listen to what he was saying several times before I realised what he was actually talking about. Not only does he mispronounce Chinese syllables, he also uses the same tones on all the words. This is a common problem with audio books about China, making me wonder why Audible doesn’t use a narrator that is familiar with the language. More annoying though is the silly voices and accents that the narrator uses for the dialogue of certain characters, making them sound more like Mexicans and Russians at times but annoying at all times. Also, he makes every Chinese woman sound like a fragile, mousy person. This took away a lot of the enjoyment in even the better parts of the book.
I wanted a book which would describe a little about China's culture and people. The stories in this book delivered on a deeper level than I expected. It tells of real people with lives that show how their country changed in recent decades. It is real life and real people. I really enjoyed it!
"brilliant! great read, interesting and enjoyable"
Really good book - have listened to it at least 5 times and it still keeps me interested. Have also listened to his other 2 books on here, both just as good - wish there was more! You really learn about China and it's people, from history to day to day living of ordinary people - would definately recommend it to all
"*** for the reader"
Great book, the reader is generally quite good but his Chinese pronunciation is pretty bad.
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