Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Contemporary Chinese Suprises

So... I will admit I was always a bit skeptical when Amazon recommended Peter Hessler's River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. I'm not a big fan of "I went to China for a year and now I'm an expert!" books. Because I studied abroad in China and you know what I found out? That there is a loooooooooooooooooooooooong and complicated history at play that is really hard for lao wai to understand, or at least understand well enough to write a book I want to read.

So, imagine my surprise when I picked up (and fell in love with) his second book, Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present.

Hessler doesn't make sweeping generalizations about China, it's culture or it's people. He doesn't pretend to be an expert. He just tells his story as a freelance reporter based in Beijing and the stories of his Chinese friends as they grapple with a society that is changing faster that most people comprehend.

His observations are poignant and funny and spot on. His prose is engaging and entertaining. Issues are explained will enough to make this a great book for someone with a passing interest in contemporary China, but covered in-depth enough for those with a more scholarly pursuit of information. His explanations and stories of the Shenzhen boom town phenomenon really put something like Candy into context and perspective.

Most importantly, Hessler's up front about his limitations and what he can and cannot know or do, which makes this book one of the most enlightening, and trust worthy, of them all.

After reading Oracle Bones, I immediately bought a copy of River Town, which is waiting patiently for me to read it.

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