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Country Driving, by Peter Hessler

July 31, 2010

When I saw this book, I remembered reading an earlier book by Peter Hessler, called River Town, about his experience with the Peace Corps teaching English in China. Then I heard that he drives around China, exploring the Great Wall, and decided to read this book. I learned quite a bit about China today, and how quickly it’s changing. Hessler is such a good storyteller I wanted to learn more. I learned that there’s not just one Great Wall, most of the sections don’t connect, and it can’t be seen from space. Much of the wall is only three or four hundred years old, but other sections are much older. In a related article in the May, 2008, National Geographic magazine, which is all about China, there’s a photo of a section of the wall with a parallel line of wind turbines, taken by photographer Fritz Hoffman, who sometimes traveled with Hessler. That is a good analogy of China today; an odd mix of ancient and modern. Hessler’s experiences of car rentals,  and finding his way with questionable maps is very entertaining, but it downplays what an adventurous traveler he is. Often he sleeps under the stars, and dines on Oreos.  In another section of the book, he rents a house in Sancha, a small rural village near Beijing, and becomes involved in the life of the community. Later he travels southeast China, following a new highway to the brand new factory town of Lishu, and meets the factory owners, employees, and traveling entertainers. The jacket photo is of a police statue on an unpatrolled section of highway, rather like a scarecrow in a corn field.

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