on 29 October 2013
Peter Hessler has long been one of my favorite China writers, his thoughtful musings are unparalleled by any other western writer in China. However, this anthology merely compiles his old New Yorker articles, all which are available for free online at the New Yorker archives. Seems like a quick cash grab by the publishers.
on 25 May 2015
Peter Hessler is as good as Paul Theroux, and he shares his stylistic virtues - well-written, gripping, fluent prose, together with a willingness to let the facts speak for themselves. The most surprising and thought-provoking piece in this consistently excellent book is The Uranium Widows, where he investigates a mining town in Colorado. You might have him down as a solid Democrat but in this section he evinces a willingness to listen to and learn from a strongly Republican constituency. It's true that a few of the esays are rehashes of New Yorker articles or previous books (especially the piece called Quartet, which is of no special interest if you already own Country Driving), but most of it is unfamiliar to non-subscribers, and is anyway rewritten and refined. All in all, this is an enormously pleasurable book for anyone interested in America and China, the twin poles of this coming century.
on 20 October 2013
Having read Hessler's other books on China, I found this book a rather random collection of good stories from his previous work. The main addition is the stories set in Colorado, which show Hessler honing his skills in his home country. His story on the condemned uranium mining community of Uravan, Colorado, is a masterpiece of careful research and sensitive, unpresumptuous interviews with the ex-mining families. As usual, Hessler lets the local characters lead the story where it will, and arrives at transparently stunning observations: "On the other side of the world, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are thriving cities, but the town that helped make the bomb has been wiped off the face of the earth."
I also greatly enjoyed the piece on Japan's yakuza gangsters. It's so refreshing to find a reporter who just hangs out with ordinary people and conveys how the world looks to them, rather than helping to broadcast what powerful people think to the commoners. Hessler even hangs out with Chinese street kids who push pornographic video disks. Naturally, I look forward to reading his tales of casual conversations in Arabic with the folks in Egypt.
--author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women