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River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  6,040 ratings  ·  646 reviews
In 1996, 26-year-old Peter Hessler arrived in Fuling, a town on China's Yangtze River, to begin a two-year Peace Corps stint as a teacher at the local college. Along with fellow teacher Adam Meier, the two are the first foreigners to be in this part of the Sichuan province for 50 years. Expecting a calm couple of years, Hessler at first does not realize the social, cultura...more
Paperback, 402 pages
Published 2002 by John Murray (first published January 1st 2001)
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Shovelmonkey1
Nov 28, 2012 Shovelmonkey1 rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: armchair travellers and people looking for a beginners guide to china
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: random chance
China is bafflingly massive. And that is a bonafide geographical fact people. You can get one of those old fashioned things called a map and have a look. See, I am not wrong. Not only is it massive but the PRC is also the most populous country in the world with a population of over 1.3 billion. How do you even go about counting that many people? How do you get them all to stand still for long enough?

Peter Hessler, author of River Town, Two Years on the Yangtze, went to China not to check populat...more
Chrissie
Interesting and well written, but some sections could have been tightened. The author spent two years (1996-1998) as a Peace Corp volunteer in Fuling, China. It is a remote town located in the Yangtze River Valley, in the heartland of the Sichuan province. He taught English, he learned Chinese and through his own learning, teaching, talking and living with these people he comes to understand what it is to be Chinese. His experience was one of total immersion. What he learned he has shared with u...more
Anna
this was the one of MANY peace corps memoirs i suffered through (reading material choices were limited to our paltry communal bookshelves in the volunteer lounge of the swaziland peace corps office).
anyway, i used to write a monthly literature review box or our volunteer newsletter, and one month i ranted about this genre. below are my thoughts:

Dissecting the Peace Corps Memoir
One of my least favorite genres of nonfiction is hands-down the “peace corps memoir.” I attribute it to both the f...more
Ensiform
A volunteer for the Peace Corps, Hessler lived in Fuling, a little town in Sichuan province, on the delta of the Yangtze and Wu rivers, for two years teaching English. As one of the few Westerners in the town since World War II, Hessler becomes the focus of not always kind attention in town, but as he learns more Chinese and more of the Chinese way of doing things, he sees his place more clearly and almost, at times, seems to fit into the daily life there. Of course, nearly everything in China i...more
Rachel
For those who think this book is incredibly dull, I must say, I don't think it was intended to be a work of entertainment. It often reads like a personal journal, which can be both charming and a chore. If you're patient, I think you'll find it reasonably pleasant to settle in and listen to Peter Hessler tell his story.

For those who say that Peter Hessler is a conceited jerk ... mmm, I don't buy that. He makes observations about how rude and petty many of the Chinese people are, and he also fre...more
Matthew
Halfway through River Town, I can't help but observe that Pete Hessler was just 27 when he arrived to teach English for the Peace Corp in Fuling, the town on which his memoir/travelogue is based. My favourite books are like this, I can't help but see blurred reflections of myself in them. I wish I'd read Hessler before I went to China for exchange in 2002, but I try to forgive myself the immaturity at that stage; after all I was just 21 then. It seems so old, though, 21, after NS, and compared t...more
Hallie Taylor
Since writing this book, Peter Hessler has established himself as one of the premier journalists writing about life in China today. You'll find his pieces in the New Yorker and the Atlantic. River Town is well worth reading. It is an introspective memoir of his first two years of living in somewhat rural China and is also very well written.

I met two of Peter Hessler's Peace Corps comrades in 1996 or 1997 in Xishuangbanna. I remember them telling me about their experiences and frustrations worki...more
Aron
Good: Hessler does a good job of describing the character of the people he meets and the complexity of their lives. Those stories are all interesting, funny and often touching.
Bad: Hessler is an arrogant & condescending jerk who thinks he is being sensitive & understanding, but really isn׳t. I give him a discount because he was young & stupid (despite his Oxford education) when he wrote this. Nonetheless I find the book insufferable when he writes about himself which is way too much...more
Tony
Peter Hessler is an observant soul. Here, he shares two years of observation from his stint in China's Sichuan province as a Peace Corps volunteer. Hessler is not there to teach farming or engineering nor to provide medical assistance (which was my erroneous presumption about the Peace Corps). No, he teaches English Literature. He sounds like a wonderful teacher and the interplay with the students was the best part of the book. River Town is full of anecdotes and reads well and informs. But Hess...more
Peter
A good friend recommended this book to me after hearing of my interest in learning more about opportunities for Americans to volunteer in international settings.

The story of Peter Hessler’s two year stint (1996-1998?) as a Peace Corps volunteer in Fuling (pop. 200,000) in the Sichuanese hinterlands of China , teaching English at a state-sponsored school to the next generation of Chinese teachers of the English language, reads a bit like a China-based “To Sir with Love.”

It may lack some of the dr...more
Troy Parfitt
Almost nine years to the day after a young Peter Hessler first set foot in Fuling, I floated by that remote city on the first night of a three-day Yangtze river cruise. I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. to catch a glimpse of the place I had been reading about for the past two weeks, so wrapped up had I become in Hessler's story. A vague assemblage of lights appeared and I gazed silently at the town as it gazed silently back. Then, as quickly as it had emerged, it melted into and inky, airless night. I...more
Lilisa
The City of Fuling in China's Sichuan Province was home to Peter Hessler for two years as he undertook his stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1996. Fuling, a small city in comparison to the the usual overcrowded Chinese cities we've read about, is very different. Instead, Hessler calls it the "city of legs" because when "climbing the stairways, you keep your head down and look at the legs of the person in front of you." It's a no-bicycle city because Fuling is a city of steps - squished between...more
E Wilson


This was a great book,entertaining and educational. The author did his best to understand his students,the people of the relatively small Chinese city where he taught, and the political climate.

It was interesting how uncomfortable he and his friend, Adam, were to be the center of attention every time they ventured onto the streets.
I guess he really found out what it is like to be instantly recognizable as an outsider.

I think the Chinese were more sympathetic than I thought they would be to an Am...more
Jim Leffert
Here is a sensitive and succulent, if a bit overlong, account of two years as one of the only two Westerners in a provincial town in Western China. Peter Hessler was one of two Peace Corps volunteers who were the first foreigners to live in the Szechuan town of Fuling in at least 50 years. River Town recounts Hessler’s stay in the mid-1990’s in this town on the Yangtze River, where he and his friend Adam Meier taught English language and literature to students at the local teachers college. Hess...more
Larry Bassett
Sorry, this is too long. I'll try not to do it again!

You do need to remember that these events happened 14 years ago in a country that is changing incredibly quickly. Fuling is no longer an isolated city; it is accessible by train, expressway and boat.

If you want to know more about China – and who doesn’t – read this book. Me, I have the second Peter Hessler book published in 2006 to read:
Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present

August 18, 2003 issue of Time Asia with an update...more
Mr. Brammer
Oct 14, 2007 Mr. Brammer rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like overwrought prose
Several people I know have read and raved about this book, it's gotten across-the-board good reviews from respected publications, so I started "River Town" with high expectations. Why, then, do I think this book is so terrible? Mainly I find Hessler's writing style grating and pretentious. He makes sure to mention early on that he went to Princeton and Oxford (and reminds us a couple times afterwards), even though it was totally irrelevant to the narrative, and his descriptions of the Sichuan co...more
Sara M. Watson
I read this in the days after we settled into our apartment in Chongqing. It was a good timing, because Hessler describes some of the same landscapes and culture in his vivid description of Fuling, not far down the Yangtze river from Chongqing. Some things he described I have been discovering myself as I explore my new neighborhood, and some things have changed dramatically since he was in Fuling in 1995-97. This book serves as useful context and recent history to inform my stay, and it also put...more
Abby
I hope to one day meet Peter Hessler and thank him for this book. He writes of his life in Fuling, China, just downriver of Chongqing, where I currently reside. Though he was there in 1997 just before the great opening, the attitudes of the people he met, befriended, and fought with, are still with the people of this region today. Hessler's insight into Southwest China where the language is lispy and the weather hot allowed me to ease into my life here.

Teaching in China is a totally new world....more
Vanessa
River Town leaves me with a sense of depression more that anything else. Halfway through the book, the
author gives detailed accounts of complicated conversations he's had with
locals after only learning the language for a year. And here I'm still
struggling with Chinese after being in China for 1 1/2 years. Way to make me
feel like a smuck! Just kidding. In all seriousness, it's a good book. You
can see that there is a concern about the history of the people. Most of his
conversations included...more
Suzanne
And I figured that if you have to listen to Marxist interpretations of literature, you might as well hear them at a college where the students clean the classrooms.

In 1996, Peter Hessler arrived in the river town of Fulan, in the Sichuan province of China. As a Peace Corps volunteer, Hessler had signed on to a two year teaching assignment at a teacher’s college.

Hessler’s experiences and wonderful writing style make for excellent narrative non-fiction. Not only is it entertaining, but you are a...more
Gypsy Lady
399 page hard cover

Favorite quotes
Page 39
It was, as Orwell would say, a case in which words and meaning had parted company. All that mattered was that students used the correct termininology and the correct political framework as they viewed the world around them.

Page 45
For the first time I came to understand why literataure so often slides away toward politics. I had struggled with this before; at Princeton I had majored in English, and after graduation I had spent two years studying English la...more
Boof
What a fantastic book. This, for me, was one of those rare books that you can't put down but don't want to end. Having just finnished it this morning I am already at a loss. I have read many books on China and this ranks among the best for me.

This is the story of Peter Hessler, an American student, who takes up an English teaching post in a remote town called Fuling where the River Wu meets the Yangtze. Fuling becomes his home for the next two years and here we are treated to a feast of Chinese...more
Andrew Martin
chased down hessler's china books after reading the ridiculously good new yorker piece about the druggist in colorado: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/20...

more than anything what i appreciated about this book is that it reads as fundamentally honest. sometimes hessler is his better self; at others he's irritated and judgmental as he adjusts to the country. he doesn't sugarcoat his perceptions or cast his behavior as particularly heroic. over time, he revisits opinions.

reading a mid-90s narr...more
Anne
Hessler tells the fascinating story of his two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural China. As he relates the development of his relationships with his students, the townspeople, and China as a whole, Hessler weaves in beautiful descriptions of the landscape and rich cultural history. He uses snippets of his students' own writings to examine the complexity of Chinese culture at a particularly sensitive historical moment. In doing so, he also creates funny, moving, memorable portraits of life...more
Sara
Peter Hessler, a young Peace Corps volunteer, shares his experiences teaching English literature at Fuling Teachers College in Fuling, a remote town in the Yangtze River valley. Hessler chronicles his two years in the classroom, in the community, and in the natural environment in the fashion of a documentary, but with plenty of personality showing through. He illuminates the line that must be carefully walked between teaching and opening doors and minds, versus allowing ones own background and p...more
Stan Vukajlovich
This a well written history of a Peace Corps Volunteer's two years as a volunteer teaching high school level English in China. As a former PCV (77-79 Malaysia) I found that Hessler did a fantastic job of capturing and describing so many of the memories and emotions that are created in such a unique setting. One of the very helpful things that he had available to aid his understanding was his access to his students journals they were required to maintain. So he could directly read what their thou...more
Dawn
I got this book to help me learn and understand some aspects of Chinese culture before I left home and it was definitely a good choice. I just finished reading inhere in Nanjing and I've got another of his books on my kindle ready read titled Oracle Bones. River Town is situated in a rural Chinese town in the early nineties where the author did a two year stint with the peace corp. For the most part his experiences reflect and open honesty, willingness to become culturally accepted in this small...more
Ryan Louis
David Sedaris told me to read this book. So I did.

At a public reading, Sedaris made a recommendation for, what he called, someone who can actually write. Oh David Sedaris...

I've read Hessler's "New Yorker" articles and love them. So it didn't come as much surprise that this ended up being good. The funny thing, though, is that even though I was familiar with and appreciated the author, I started the book seriously skeptical. I'm not super-patriotic or anything (if I'm anything "super," it would...more
Meghan
Feb 07, 2013 Meghan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: China newbies
Recommended to Meghan by: David B.
There is so much I want to say but I am at a loss other than to say Peter Hessler weaves words that aren't just lyrical, they paint a picture that matches my feelings of living in China--how living here can be overwhelming and frustrating and demoralizing, yet in an instant beautiful, amazing, and extraordinary. In some ways, this story is more than a story of living in China, it is about being an outsider--something that few Westerners truly understand. To be the only one of your kind, to have...more
Zinger
I enjoyed this book because it gave the reader a perspective of being an outsider in China. I was impressed at how well the author controlled his frustrations due to the Orwellian history and propaganda from the communist party. As fascinating as China is, I don't think I could have handled living there as long as he did under those conditions (and those conditions are nowhere as bad as they had been in the past).

I also enjoyed the descriptions of the personal friendships he made with some of th...more
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Peter Hessler is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he served as Beijing correspondent from 2000-2007, and is also a contributing writer for National Geographic. He is the author of River Town, which won the Kiriyama Book Prize, and Oracle Bones, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He won the 2008 National Magazine Award for excellence in reporting.
More about Peter Hessler...
Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China

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“I realized that as a thinking person his advantage lay precisely in his lack of formal education. Nobody told him what to think, and thus he was free to think clearly.” 5 likes
“People with good memories are liable to be crushed by the weight of their suffering. Only those with bad memories, the fittest to survive, can live on. - Lu Xun” 2 likes
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