AC's Reviews > Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory

Country Driving by Peter Hessler
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Feb 18, 11

bookshelves: audible, china
Read in February, 2011

I haven't finished (listening), but I *can* write a comment now. This is a wonderful book. Hessler is a wonderful and brilliant writer. He has a deep and serious understanding of culture (as such), as well as of Chinese culture in particular; he is intelligent, observant, has emotional range, a sense of humor -- and, most importantly, he is writing about something important. The emergence of China is a world-historical event, and this book -- much of which takes place in rural China in 2002-2006 -- it is like reading Braudel.... or Hobsbawm's description of the emergence of modernity in late 18th cen Europe -- modernization of transport, of communications, of values... all taking place before his eyes -- only condensed from 50 years into 5. This book, and Oracle Bones (which is even better), will thus have value as a permanent record -- an on-the-ground reportage -- of events that historians will spend the next 50 years digesting.

And most importantly, reading or listening to Hessler is just so damned entertaining -- that it's a treat.

Well..., let me qualify that -- NOT most importantly...

.... but all the same... these books ARE a pleasure.
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Reading Progress

08/11/2010 page 20
4.0% "I've only started, but so far it seems fabulous. I'm a big fan of Hessler, and think Oracle Bones is a work of real brilliance. I follow China, and CN economic news closely, and was in Shanghai and Hangzhou last summer -- I would move there in a NY minute, if I could... Beats the hell outta MoCo"
02/11/2011 page 280
55.0% "approximately - I'm on audio, so don't know exactly..."
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message 1: by AC (new) - rated it 5 stars

AC I've gone back to this, listening to it in the car on Audible during my (seemingly) endless peregrinations around the fast decaying suburbs of DC (re: MoCo) -- what a great tale he tells!

Quick snippet: Hessler picks up an old man and a very hot young girl hitch hiking out in rural CN, and takes them to the little provincial town they were going to. The girl was the old man's granddaughter, and she worked in a beauty salon (which often means prostitution); the old man had several large 50 lbs bags of salt he was selling and which he threw in the back of Hessler's car. The old man had apparently been sent by the girl's family to live in the town with her, to keep an eye on her.

When they got to the Salon, the girls there and a couple of boys in leather jackets were all hanging around, listening to Madonna and dancing in front of a wall hung full of mirrors -- watching themselves dance. The old man, toothless, with a stubble growth of beard, and long weathered eyes, stood silently watching the young boys and girls -- "the only one in the room," Hessler tells us, "who wasn't looking at himself in the mirrors".

I told that story to my class today, while talking about reading (they all insist, my students do, that they can only read for what "relates to them", modernism, and the intellectual narcissism of contemporary education....

Anyway -- my advice to anyone who's never read (or listened) to Hessler is walk... don't run (cliché, but true).


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