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River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (2001)

by Peter Hessler

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1,6245210,434 (4.16)61
Records the author's experiences as a Peace Corps English teacher in the small Chinese city of Fuling, during which time he witnessed such events as the death of Deng Xiaoping, the return of Hong Kong to the mainland, and the construction of the Three Gorges Dam.
  1. 00
    Sailing Through China by Paul Theroux (John_Vaughan)
  2. 00
    Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip by Peter Hessler (dhm)
    dhm: Three more settings: The Road, The Village, The Economic Zone

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Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
Man, I am on a run of good books! This is basically a travelogue and Hessler does a great job of teasing out the meeting points between different cultures, not always harmonious. Put me in mind of my own travels to SE Asia at nineteen years old. I was such a jackass and lacked a lot of the skills that would have made for more fulfilling travel. ( )
  BBrookes | Nov 16, 2023 |
This is a nonfiction account of a Peace Corps volunteer's time in China. I did not feel particularly engaged in his experience. As much as I love the Orient, this book did not make me want to visit there. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jul 19, 2023 |
I’ve never been to China. After reading the first book in Peter Hessler’s trilogy that chronicles his experiences as an American living in China on the cusp of the 21st century, I now understand that China is so massive geographically that there is no one China. A common history binds the culture, but the social conventions and language can differ depending on where you are.

River Town is about the two years Hessler taught English in Fuling, a remote city in Sichuan in the mountainous center of the nation. As part of the earliest cadre of Peace Corps volunteers to enter China in the 1990s, Hessler was assigned to a small teacher’s college. Most of his students were peasants’ children, and the opportunity to teach school was an honorable advancement for them.

The students were diligent and well-behaved, but Hessler and his fellow volunteer, Adam, made plenty of missteps inside and outside the classroom. The pair learn the local Chinese dialect, make friends in town, and feel like they belong there. But unfolding events prove their confidence and comfort are premature.

I enjoyed this peek into Chinese society in the 1990s. With the newly opened economy, the country only recently allowed outside influences in, and the clash between the cultures was very real. But so was the humanity both sides displayed.

Hessler covers too much ground to examine in a short review. He was there while the nation built the Three Gorges Dam and lamented the imminent loss of the area’s beautiful landscapes. But he celebrates the kindnesses and honesty of the residents while denigrating the government propaganda that kept them under control. River Town is a wonderful book for anyone who genuinely enjoys a “slice of life” look at a particular place and time. ( )
  Library_Lin | Jul 5, 2023 |
recommended by AP Comp teachers
  pollycallahan | Jul 1, 2023 |
Several people I know have read and raved about this book, it's gotten across-the-board good reviews from respected publications, so I started "River Town" with high expectations. Why, then, do I think this book is so terrible? Mainly I find Hessler's writing style grating and pretentious. He makes sure to mention early on that he went to Princeton and Oxford (and reminds us a couple times afterwards), even though it was totally irrelevant to the narrative, and his descriptions of the Sichuan countryside are overwrought and romanticized.
Another thing that I dislike about the book is that nothing about it seems human: Hessler has a tendency to generalize about the Chinese, and he never really paints himself in a negative light. One of the dangers of putting too much stock in "expat on the ground" memoirs (or Peace Corps memoirs in general) is that there are a lot of impressions formed that come from limited experience in one town, region, or group of people, and all of it is colored by the writer's outsider status. I give River Town two stars because it made me nostalgic about my own Peace Corps service, but I really don't think it gave me any kind of real understanding of modern China. ( )
  jonbrammer | Jul 1, 2023 |
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for my parents
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I came to Fuling on the slow boat downstream from Chongqing.
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Records the author's experiences as a Peace Corps English teacher in the small Chinese city of Fuling, during which time he witnessed such events as the death of Deng Xiaoping, the return of Hong Kong to the mainland, and the construction of the Three Gorges Dam.

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