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*****= An all-time favorite
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****River Town

Two Years on the Yangtze

by Peter Hessler

Reviewed November 24, 2003.
HarperCollins, New York, 2001.  399 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (915.1 HES).
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:  #2, Cross-Cultural Nonfiction

I had been meaning to read this book for a long time, but hadn’t quite gotten around to it.  When I finally opened it up and started, I was completely captivated from the first chapter and wouldn’t have dreamed of stopping.

Peter Hessler went as a Peace Corps volunteer and worked in China for two years in the small city of Fuling.  Along with a partner, he was there from August 1996 to 1998, working as a teacher of English language and literature at a teacher’s college.  No Americans had lived there for half a century.

I always thought that I preferred cross-cultural books written about Europe, because it’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit myself.  Perhaps that was because I had never read such a wonderful book as this one.  Admittedly, Peter Hessler did not give me any desire to live in China, but he did make me thoroughly enjoy his experience there and made me feel that, to a small degree, I knew the place.

Of course, China has a culture wholly different from America.  It was fascinating to watch Peter Hessler grow in his understanding of it and in his ability to communicate things about America to his students.  He gives fascinating accounts of his interaction with the people, and amazing stories of the classroom, including his students’ interpretations of English literature like Beowulf and the works of Shakespeare.

This book is fascinating, riveting, entertaining and enlightening all at once.  It makes you feel almost as if you’ve been to China.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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