Author: Peter Hessler
Title: Über Land. Begegnungen im neuen China [Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory] Time: 2001-2008
Length: several travels over several years
A connaisseur with a heart
The story: US-citizen PH works as a correspondent for The New Yorker in Beijing. He gets a driver’s license and drives a rental car along some parts of the Great Wall, he rents a house in a small village in the mountains East of Beijing, and he chronicles the development of a factory district near Shanghai.
3 (very different) parts
The resulting book is thus divided into 3 parts: the wall, the village, and the factory. And while the story about his driving along the Great Wall is somewhat the only real piece of travel literature of the three, the other two also seem to qualify in some way. I thought this was a pretty impressive read. The Great Wall part isn’t even that great (it seems more like a very extensive journalistic article to me), but the one about the factory is very good, and the one about life in the village is even better.
Peter Hessler the China expert
What makes it so good though? Well for one thing, PH seems to know quite a bit about China, and some of his insights are hilarious. To give you an example: I particularly enjoyed his depiction of the various brands of tobacco and how they are being used to facilitate business ventures. Or his observations about the importance of clothes, sneakers and fake leather bags.
passion for the people
But the thing that made this one really worthwhile: PH comes across as not just some distanced reporter, but he really shows a lot of passion for the people around him. That goes especially for the story about the village, which I thought was very moving. So, if you are interested in finding out more about modern China, this book (along with Richard Wilhelm, Rob Gifford, John Pomfret and maybe Mark Salzman) might be pretty useful to you.