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River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

(China trilogy #1)

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  11,707 ratings  ·  1,064 reviews

In the heart of China's Sichuan province lies the small city of Fuling. Surrounded by the terraced hills of the Yangtze River valley, Fuling has long been a place of continuity, far from the bustling political centers of Beijing and Shanghai. But now Fuling is heading down a new path, and gradually, along with scores of other towns in this vast and ever-evolving country, i

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Paperback, 432 pages
Published April 25th 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2001)
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Elizabeth I have only read two of Peter Hessler's books. I read his books about traveling in China. River Town is my favorite and then Country Driving is secon…more I have only read two of Peter Hessler's books. I read his books about traveling in China. River Town is my favorite and then Country Driving is second. (less)
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Shovelmonkey1
Oct 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Donna
Mar 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, book-club
I read this for my book club and it was unexpectedly difficult for me to get through it. I'm not completely sure why that is since the author's true life experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1996-1998 in Fuling, a remote Chinese village, were interesting and well written. But it was also repetitive and with too many details piled one on top of another, making for dense reading that slowed the book down. That and my incredulous reaction to some of Hessler's negative impressions of the Chin ...more
Ensiform
Mar 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, china, travel
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
Chrissie
Sep 07, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Rachel
Jun 07, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Anna
Apr 14, 2007 rated it did not like it
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
Matthew
Apr 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essaysjournalism
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
Peter Tillman
A truly excellent book, and a remarkable debut. What a writer! 4.5 stars, rounded up.

Here's the review to read, from the NY Times in 2001:
http://movies2.nytimes.com/books/01/0...
Excerpts:
"The China that Hessler portrays in ''River Town,'' his finely drawn memoir of two years in Fuling, is a place on the knife-edge between stasis and change, where centuries-old certainties can vanish in a single revolutionary instant. Much has already been buried by the rising tides of the past century, and much
...more
Hallie Taylor
Sep 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction_read
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
Larry Bassett
Jun 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china, kindle, audio, memoir
I read this in the book format a considerable time ago. I am now going to listen to it in the audible format along with the Kindle version. I remember enjoying the several books by this author about China in the past. My interest was prompted by our adoption of a 3 1/2-year-old girl from China. She is now nearly 18 years old and we have a short lifetime of history with her.

I have just finished listening to this book in the audible version on January 10, 2021. This is 10 1/2 years after I first
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Daren
I found this book by American author Peter Hessler excellent.

He is finding his feet in China, where he is teaching English in the town of Fuling, at the confluence of the Yangtze and Wu Rivers, in the Chongqing Municipality. Employed by the Peace Corps, Hessler is paid a relatively low wage, which, amongst other things, makes his conversation with the Chinese interesting, as their expectation is that he would be earning much more. Hessler spent two years in Fuling.

Hessler approached his writing
...more
Ryan Louis
Jan 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Tony
Dec 12, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chinese
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
Aron
Aug 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
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 of the time.
...more
Hai Quan
May 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The author went to China to teach English as a Peace Corp volunteer
This in itself is an act deserve admiration and love from reader
When you read, your admiration is deepened as you finding him to be a passionate explorer of the country he came to offer his selfless service He studies the people, scenery , history, the strength and weakness , the problems that families and individuals dealing with from day to day.
He has a keen observation of people behaviors under normal as well as unusual situat
...more
Aoi
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: hf-china, non-fiction
On an assignment with the Peace Corps, Peter Hessler was unceremoniously dropped into Fulin, a remote, rural part of the Sichuan province to instruct future English teachers. As the only foreigner to live amongst the locals in living memory, Hessler struggled with day to day interactions with his students and fellow teachers, who had been educated/isolated and molded by the communist revolution. And yet, change is always afoot - the world renowned Three Gorges Dam project was underway - soon tak ...more
Troy Parfitt
Mar 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Kelli
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read oracle bones and loved it. It was written at the end of the author’s time in China. He writes his understanding of the country, as an American, which was masterful. Most America’s struggle with their view of China as industrial. But few see it as it is. A country with rich history, farmland, mountains and hazy cities. I’ve visited China three times and stayed the first time for a whole summer. It was the most interesting time. I find Peter’s books on his time in China written in the way t ...more
Laine
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I must admit I expected to be bored to tears by this book - I most definitely was not. In fact, I actually loved it. Sure his writing is not always perfect but I found that unevenness to be part of its charm and believability. As someone who also works overseas in often difficult and very confusing circumstances, I could feel and thoroughly relate to his own shifting between the pain of fear and failure to the thrill of adaptation to the weird, wild, wacky world of Fuling. The book holds an hone ...more
Lisa
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
You would think that a memoir written by a Peace Corp volunteer in China 20 years ago would feel outdated. But I found Hessler's experience as a 28 year old teacher in Fuling (1996-98) both fascinating and relevant. I especially liked the parts that focused on Hessler's English literature classes, perhaps because they reminded me of the stories my 28 year old son told me about his experience teaching in Shanghai last summer.

Hessler is an excellent writer and I look forward to reading more of hi
...more
Kelly Hong
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed Hessler's unique perspective and interactions with the Chinese people of this river town -- as a foreigner, he was respectful, funny, and empathetic. And while he does have certain political opinions, he really tries to understand the Chinese people and their history. He uses beautiful language to describe the scenery and the hustle, which makes you feel like you are there! As he says in the book, this is just his experience in a small part of China, in a specific time in histor ...more
Peter
Mar 18, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Abby
Feb 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Liam
Sep 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book has some or the strongest sense of place and character I've seen in a nonfiction work. The cast of characters is fleshed out and the setting is poetically yet simply described. Despite its many personal anecdotes, the writing manages to keep a journalistic detachment, not bogged down with over-personal diary-like elements. River Town is educational, inspiring, and entertaining; everything I look for in narrative nonfiction. ...more
Yangzi
Jan 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book is hilarious. I sometimes paint while I listen to audiobooks, but I couldn’t while listening to this one because it often got me laughing and my hands would shake.
As someone who grew up in China, I’m impressed by how Peter Hessler observes and chronicles his Peace Corps volunteer years in China. Although it was in the mid-90s, a lot of core things are still very much relevant today.
I do think this book might be more enjoyable for “foreigners” who have visited or lived in China, or Ch
...more
Nancy
Feb 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
I wanted to like this so much
…hoping for some excellent writing by a author
who contributed to The New Yorker.
That is where I discovered Hessler in 2017.

Unfortunately Hessler wrote this book soon after college (2006)
and it reads like that.
I became very bored with the book and
ended up skimming 50% of the book.
Good news…Hessler’s writing has gotten better
...but not in this book.

3 stars is the most I can offer, and that is because it is
...a nice day out and I'm in a good mood.
If it were rai
...more
Donna
Jul 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book name is River Town by Peter Hessler talk about the two years of Peter came to China to teach.
At the beginning of the story,
Peter came to Fuling, China to teach the student that is in college English. The town is old and dirty, the road is steep and there is no way to get around except by boat. There has a river, called Yangtze River. It’s clear and cold. Everyone in Yangtze love this river. The students is studious and want to learn. Through them, Peter learn about Chinese and the Ch
...more
Meghan
Feb 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Kuang Ting
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read the book from a perspective of Chinese ethnicity from Taiwan. This book gives a vivid portrait of China in the 1990s. Mr. Hessler went to Fuling, a remote town in western China, as a Peace Corp volunteer. He spent two years teaching English literature in local English Teacher College. He writes about his life there and the his interactions with people. He also dots down his travel in some parts of China. Interestingly, his students would become English teacher after graduation. These stud ...more
Jim Leffert
Jan 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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Novel People Of E...: River Town is the selection for August 2015 1 12 Jul 30, 2015 02:28AM  

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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.

Other books in the series

China trilogy (3 books)
  • Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present
  • Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory

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