Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip

Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip

3.7 56
by Peter Hessler
     
 

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One of The Economist's Best Books of the Year

From the bestselling author of Oracle Bones and River Town comes the final book in his award-winning trilogy on the human side of the economic revolution in China.

Peter Hessler, whom the Wall Street Journal calls "one of the Western world's most thoughtful

Overview

One of The Economist's Best Books of the Year

From the bestselling author of Oracle Bones and River Town comes the final book in his award-winning trilogy on the human side of the economic revolution in China.

Peter Hessler, whom the Wall Street Journal calls "one of the Western world's most thoughtful writers on modern China," deftly illuminates the vast, shifting landscape of a traditionally rural nation that, having once built walls against foreigners, is now building roads and factory towns that look to the outside world.

Editorial Reviews

Time Magazine
"The best yet from Peter Hessler, whose two earlier books, River Town and Oracle Bones, were exemplary forays into the genre. . . . Told with his characteristic blend of empathy, insight, and self-deprecating humor."
Dwight Garner
“Delightful. . . . Epic. . . . The reporting in Country Driving is impressive in its scope. . . . Hessler delivers eloquent disquisitions on everything from how to buy a used car in China to the history of the Mongol conquest.”
Jonathan Yardley
“Exceptionally moving. . . . Hilarious. . . . An absolutely terrific book, at once highly entertaining and deeply instructive. . . . Country Driving is a wonderful book about China that also happens to be a terrific book about the human race.
Time
“The best yet from Peter Hessler, whose two earlier books, River Town and Oracle Bones, were exemplary forays into the genre. . . . Told with his characteristic blend of empathy, insight, and self-deprecating humor.”
The Economist
“Extraordinary. . . . Country Driving, like Hessler’s previous works, tells the story of China’s transformation powerfully and poetically.”
The Wall Street Journal
“Hessler’s genius has always been in his wry commentary and ability to transcribe the rhythms of his environment onto the page. . . . From this cast of thousands emerges a picture of great hopes tinged with sadness at what is being cast aside without second thought.”
The Boston Globe
“Hessler is a keen observer of mind-catching details and an engaging storyteller. . . . Full of exotic detail, solid reporting, and ironic observation, Country Driving offers a personal snapshot of the world’s second superpower hurtling through the 21st century.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Lively. . . . Engaging. . . . Hessler sets out with some suspect maps and a great deal of bravado. . . . He shows the effects China’s ever expanding network of roads exerts on individual lives. . . . Hessler [has an] irresistible urge to follow a story.”
The Christian Science Monitor
“A fascinating road trip through a land in transition. . . . Hessler’s description of China’s new drivers is hilarious. . . . Country Driving tells us as much about contemporary China even when Hessler is not on the road.”
Bloomberg News
“Peter Hessler, a modern Marco Polo crossing China in a rented Jeep Cherokee, has witnessed signs and wonders worthy of a Coen brothers film. . . . Every so often, I read a book that upends my perceptions about a place. This is one of them.”
The Huffington Post
“If you want to understand today’s China, and the forces changing it, you need to read Country Driving.”
The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Hessler has made a career of interpreting contemporary China and, for my money, nobody does it better. . . . Hessler is a magnificent guide to this largely uncharted territory, witty, insightful, keenly aware of the ironies of this communist-capitalist society.”
Publishers Weekly
In his latest feat of penetrating social reportage, New Yorker writer Hessler (Oracle Bones) again proves himself America's keenest observer of the New China. Hessler investigates the country's lurch into modernity through three engrossing narratives. In an epic road trip following the Great Wall across northern China, he surveys dilapidated frontier outposts from the imperial past while barely surviving the advent of the nation's uniquely terrifying car culture. He probes the transformation of village life through the saga of a family of peasants trying to remake themselves as middle-class entrepreneurs. Finally, he explores China's frantic industrialization, embodied by the managers and workers at a fly-by-night bra-parts factory in a Special Economic Zone. Hessler has a sharp eye for contradictions, from the absurdities of Chinese drivers' education courses—low-speed obstacle courses are mandatory, while seat belts and turn signals are deemed optional—to the leveling of an entire mountain to make way for the Renli Environmental Protection Company. Better yet, he has a knack for finding the human-scale stories that make China's vast upheavals both comprehensible and moving. The result is a fascinating portrait of a society tearing off into the future with only the sketchiest of maps. (Feb.)\
Library Journal
This is American journalist Hessler's third travelog-memoir about present-day China, following his Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present. Here he writes of his multiyear journey across mainland China, from the interior farmlands to the heart of urban life there, living for a time with a family from the small but historical Sancha village. Through accounts of his day-to-day interactions, Hessler reveals the struggles of rural life amid the enormous modernization of the country and how the modest ways of life are slowly being erased by the lure of the market economy and big money. Hessler then travels to the coastal regions of Zhejiang, to the booming industrial city of Lishu, where he finds a cast of fascinating characters, including factory bosses, farm girls, and traveling troupes, their lives intertwining in a struggle to survive and adapt to the new life and philosophy of a growing consumer-driven society and an often brutally corrupt political system. VERDICT Hessler offers Western readers an intimate story of a much-analyzed but often misunderstood world; both lay readers and scholars will appreciate. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/09.]—Allan Cho, Univ. of British Columbia Lib., Vancouver
Kirkus Reviews
On the road in China with New Yorker staff writer Hessler (Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present, 2006, etc.), as he explores the remnants of its dying rural past and its booming, uncertain urban future. The author received his Chinese driver's license in 2001 and set off on a 7,000-mile journey following the twists and turns of the Great Wall. In a rented car and armed only with junk food and Chinese road maps of questionable accuracy, he explored the great expanses of China's north and northwest, areas largely left behind in the country's surge of economic development. In villages as ancient as the Wall itself, few except the very old and the very young remained, the rest having escaped to the cities and the promise of work. "To drive across China," he writes, "was to find yourself in the middle of the largest migration in human history-nearly one-tenth of the population was on the road, finding new lives away from home." One village north of Beijing seemed also bound for extinction, but the appearance of paved roads, a boom in private-car sales and an urban longing for a glimpse of rustic rural life revived the village and the fortunes of Wei Ziqi and his family. Hessler follows Wei's rise as a village entrepreneur and Party leader and discovers what is possible and what may be lost as poor Chinese villages become tourist hotspots. Finally, the author traveled southern China, where the construction of new roads has enabled the rise of industrial boom towns to which rural migrants continue to flock. He traces the fate of the owners and workers of a factory that makes rings for bras. All of them illiterate peasants, Hessler writes of their dreams and courage in makinga better life within a "no-holds-barred version of capitalism." Though he befriends his subjects, the author never intrudes in their stories, and he follows their lives over a number of years. The result is a remarkably detailed, engrossing account of China today. The human side of China's great transformation, told with humor, affection and great insight.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061804106
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/08/2011
Series:
P. S. Series
Pages:
438
Sales rank:
243,740
Product dimensions:
7.82(w) x 5.28(h) x 1.10(d)

What People are saying about this

Jonathan Yardley

“Exceptionally moving. . . . Hilarious. . . . An absolutely terrific book, at once highly entertaining and deeply instructive. . . . Country Driving is a wonderful book about China that also happens to be a terrific book about the human race.

Dwight Garner

“Delightful. . . . Epic. . . . The reporting in Country Driving is impressive in its scope. . . . Hessler delivers eloquent disquisitions on everything from how to buy a used car in China to the history of the Mongol conquest.”

Meet the Author

Peter Hessler is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he served as the Beijing correspondent from 2000 to 2007, and is also a contributing writer for National Geographic. He is the author of River Town, which won the Kiriyama Prize; Oracle Bones, which was a finalist for the National Book Award; and, most recently, Country Driving. He won the 2008 National Magazine Award for excellence in reporting, and he was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011. He lives in Cairo.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Beijing, China
Date of Birth:
June 14, 1968
Place of Birth:
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Education:
Princeton University, Creative Writing and English, 1992; Oxford University, English Language and Literature, 1994

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Country Driving 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 55 reviews.
Vermillion_Bear More than 1 year ago
I've read all of Peter Hessler's books and this one is by far my favorite. I wish I was able to do like Hessler and drive through China, encountering newly paved highways and dirt roads leading to long forgotten places. There is a small detour where the author makes a home in a village for a number of months, but he continues his journey on the road to encounter ordinary Chinese citizens trying to make a living in a continuously changing China. There are corrupt Chinese officials, honest village leaders, artists, simple country folk, factory workers, and entrepreneurs both in factory towns and small villages. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about China and how its citizens and a foreigner may perceive the progress of China in different ways.
janet52 More than 1 year ago
Highly humorous, informative, and entertaining, there are three stories in this book. Each offers glimpses into the evolving world of the Chinese. The 1st is really about driving in the country and exploring the Great Wall. 2nd is a story about a country family as they learn to adapt to their rapidly changing/urbanizing world. 3rd is a story about one factory and the people whose livelyhoods depend on it. This is very well written and my favorite Peter Hessler book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read three of Peter Hessler's books on China, and this one was my favorite. It gave a great feel for what things were like during the major economic boom in China and how it impacted different parts of the population in both good and bad ways. Mr. Hessler does a good job of building relationships with people in China and gaining valuable insights. The book was written in an entertaining fashion as well, and made it an easy read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A wonderful book about travel and the state of China today.
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BrianGriffith More than 1 year ago
I think Hessler is the best kind of journalist, and the opposite of a sensationalist. He just hangs out with local people and conveys their struggles as they try to completely change things. He must be a friendly guy to be allowed such access to people's family and business lives. They let him listen in as they conduct job interviews, discipline kids, handle tax inspectors, plan factories from the ground up, or have dinner with their families. Part of the book concerns road trips. But most of it is about getting to know groups of ordinary people. Their intense pragmatism and determination to improvise give Hessler his opening to learn. We see how development zones are funded, how factories are thrown together, how police buy shares in speed traps, or how traveling circus shows operate outside the law. Mostly, Hessler shows us common people taking huge risks, flying by the seats of their pants, making mistakes that are both dangerous and hilarious, clawing their way to a slightly better day. --author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization
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SylviaMD More than 1 year ago
Our book group tackled this, some of us read only one or two of the three sections. I liked the human portraits best, scattered among the three sections. some of book group laughed at the driving parts in the first section while others were appalled. The village and factory sections, 2 and 3, drew me in the most, especially when children or adolescents were in focus. Very well written, lends itself to selection among the three parts depending on your own personal priorities.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lots of first hand info about an important and, for many of us Americans, obscure part of the world. Well researched and enjoyably written.
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