River Town: Two years on the Yangtze

Peter Hessler''s book has great insights, but his casual style masks an agenda as clear as that of the country he visited.

Personal experience, preferably adventurous and emotional, often seems a wonderful way to make a point. Take Peter Hessler's River Town. It's a brilliantly wry and sometimes moving description of the author's two-year stay in a small city in Sichuan, teaching English literature in a local university.

Hessler is an economical yet elegant writer. He meets dozens, if not hundreds of locals, gains their trust and the text is full of the resulting anecdotes. Above all, these stories will have foreigners living in China laughing and nodding at the accuracy of his observations.

But this is not all the book is. Hessler manages to achieve something remarkable with the result. Despite the...

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