Karen Chung's Reviews > River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

River Town by Peter Hessler
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May 15, 12

Read in April, 2012

I received this book as a gift many years ago from an American friend who lived in China for some time and speaks excellent Mandarin; I finally got around to reading it after a French friend who also lived and taught in China and is fluent in Chinese recommended it, saying that many of the experiences Hessler describes were similar to his own.

River Town is full of things familiar to me, as they would be to anyone acquainted with Chinese culture and language. I've lived in Taiwan for going on three decades, and Chinese everywhere have many core features in common, regardless of which part of greater China they grew up in. On the other hand, there were also lots of things very alien to me, though I have a general knowledge of them through reading, friends and visits to the PRC. These things mainly have to do with the heavyhanded control exercised on anybody within the PRC's borders, and the onerous legacy of the Cultural Revolution, and other disastrous policies of Mao. Much of this was hard to read and to stomach, thinking of how vastly much easier life is for us in a place like Taiwan, or Hong Kong. But all of it was food for thought, especially the raw, painfully honest accounts of the times when Hessler was on the losing side of a power struggle with the powers that be.

Sometimes the book felt like just a mundane daily journal of a foreigner in the PRC, with some literary flourishes - maybe because there was much I felt I could extrapolate from my own experiences living in a Chinese-speaking area. But in fact I learned a lot from it, and recommend it to anyone interested in the day-to-day realities of life in rural China in the 90s - and much certainly still applies today.
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message 1: by Malcolm (new)

Malcolm Thoughtful responses to a book's impact on us are always valuable. Books are written by human being based upon their experiences. What makes writing unique, as opposed to speaking, is that a form of dialogue takes place between writer and reader that is of inestimable value to the reader and, in some larger scheme of things of which we are barely aware, to the writer.

A writer's audience is of tremendous power and empowers a writer in many ways which directly affect the tone and content of the writing.

We are enlarged by the books we read in significant ways, not all of which is conscious.

Writers, too, are enlarged by their audience, by their readers. How this happens is very likely a more mysterious process.

Thank you, Karen, for sharing your experience of reading the book.


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