Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wednesday's Book

River Town
By Peter Hessler

The river is the Yangtze and the town is Fuling, a small city in China's Sichuan province. Peter Hessler spent two years there as a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching English and American literature at Fuling Teachers College from 1996 to 98. Hessler and his fellow teacher, Adam Meier, were the first Americans to live in Fuling for more than half a century. As an American, Hessler caused quite a stir in town and had to deal with crowds, usually friendly, but extremely curious and in his face.

He also had to deal with vast cultural differences in his interactions both with students, faculty, and administration at the college. Throughout the book, he describes various situations that often become very funny as the result of misunderstandings. But Hessler is there to learn as well as teach. He studies Chinese and while his interactions with his tutor are also fraught with misunderstandings, he learns the language. And he learns from his students too and as time passes comes to a better understanding of them and their society.  

In town he befriends an old Catholic priest, Father Li, who has been a priest there for over 50 years. As Hessler says, an eternity in Fuling. He visits and has tea with Father Li and listens to him talk, both about days gone by, and the old priest's present concerns about his parish and its mainly elderly parishioners.

Hessler says he ate at least once a day at a place called the Students' Home noodle restaurant, often alone. There, as he befriended the owners and their toddler son, he got  many insights into the everyday life of a Chinese family.

Hessler also traveled to different parts of the country. I liked his travels on the Yangtze river the best. He describes the river beautifully: I could see in my mind the terraced hills, the fields tended by farmers, the bright yellow of rapeseed, the more mellow colors of wheat, old tombs on mountain sides, pagodas, and the river, the mighty Yangtze, that was soon to be tamed into the Three Gorges Dam.

In each chapter, the author teaches the reader something about China: Its history, customs, politics, language, mind sets, geography, and so on. Hessler weaves stories, commentaries, and historical events that connect to the main story of a chapter in and out of that chapter so well. You read this book, you enjoy it a lot, while at the same time you learn a about China in depth. River Town always entertains while it educates the reader. To me, this is brilliant writing.

I just started the second book by this author, called Oracle Bones, also set in China. Jane lent it to me and it promises to be just as interesting and absorbing as River Town. I recommend River Town to everyone. A great book!

I was so happy when I opened my blog this morning and found all your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed learning about the Dala horse. As was I,  since I didn't know either and had to look them up. One of the side benefits of blogging is that you learn, both from what you have to write about and what you find on your friends' blogs. I had no idea that this would happen when I first started blogging. Have a nice day everyone, it will be a stormy one here in the canyon and tomorrow, we may even get some snow!


  1. Great! Now I have another book to add to my ever growing "to read" list. I love to read and seriously do keep a list. Thanks for the informative review.

  2. You do find the most interesting books!

  3. Sounds interesting, I will add this to my To Read list..thanks Inger. Kathy

  4. Inger,
    That sounds like an interesting book~ I was intrigued about what you described as the happenings being a part of misunderstandings...doesn't that happen all too often? goodness, sometimes I feel inundated by stuff going on in my life becuase I've acted impulsive when someone has not understood what I say or my intentions.
    thanks for the title to put on my list!

  5. I generally lean towards American History -- but this sounds very interesting. Thank you for posting your thoughts on this book. :)

  6. Sounds like a good book. You seem to read faster or have more time for reading :-)

    Snow? I sure am hoping we are done, but I feel winter isn't through with us yet. It has been decent here this week and I am enjoying it.

    Have a great day, Inger!

  7. And I just finished a book too! Now I know what to look for Inger. Thanks. I love to read and learn about China and this will be the book. Off to the library....

  8. It's 'on hold' for me at the library!!! Is that fast or what!

  9. You know, Inger, i tell myself that I need to get back into reading. It seems like I'm just moving and doing all the time. Then at night...I'm pooped. Perhaps I should read some before bed...:)JP

  10. I look forward to following your blog :)

  11. I learn something new every day from bloggers..

  12. I'm passing this along to my friend Jamie. She will absolutely love this book.

  13. The book sounds like a very fascinating read. Thanks for sharing your feedback with us:) Best Wishes from the critters & me!

  14. Our book club read this book and I really enjoyed it he was quite a good writer. I also read the one on Henrietta Lacks on your recommendation and loved that one too. Our books club will read that later. Right now I'm into a childhood in Africa called 20 Chickens for a saddle. I have ordered a Kindle as several in our book club and my son as well are really loving theirs.

  15. It sounds like a very interesting book.


Thanks for leaving a comment.. ~~ Inger


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