When I started reading River Town, by Peter Hessler, I little expected that I’d get hooked. But after finishing his first book about serving with the Peace Corps in Sichuan Province, I went on to Oracle Bones which weaves deep Chinese history together with the author’s experiences living in Beijing, covering the dramatically-changing PRC for The New Yorker. His greatest gift is the way he tells the stories of average people—from students he taught in Sichuan to migrant workers—upending many assumptions proliferated in news reports about the lives and feelings of contemporary Chinese. Country Driving,Hessler’s third book, depicts the automobile revolution in China, with millions of newly-middle class people now buying cars and highways unfurling all across the country, a phenomenon that mirrors what happened in the U.S. some 60 years ago.
Now Hessler latest, Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West, published earlier this month, is on my list, too. Required reading for China-watchers.