And I figured that if you have to listen to Marxist interpretations of literature, you might as well hear them at a college where the students clean the classrooms.
In 1996, Peter Hessler arrived in the river town of Fulan, in the Sichuan province of China. As a Peace Corps volunteer, Hessler had signed on to a two year teaching assignment at a teacher’s college.
Hessler’s experiences and wonderful writing style make for excellent narrative non-fiction. Not only is it entertaining, but you are allowed a look into a world where Hessler and his fellow Peace Corps volunteer Adam, were the first foreigners to set foot in the small city.
The beauty of literature is the ability to present different individual perspectives. For Hessler, he needed to get his students to comment on and create unique literature. This was a challenge for the teacher for many reasons. First, of course, was due to the political messages which indoctrinate the Chinese populace. It had become part of their culture and so in an attempt to get them to form opinions that were personal, rather than collective, he often had to be creative. Second, the students were wary of Hessler as a foreigner. It took quite a while for them to like and trust him. And lastly, the cultural differences Hessler relates are truly a hurdle – albeit a fascinating and eye-opening one.
Hessler really opened himself up in this book. His mistakes and his successes. In a way, River Town is a first contact book that will help us to develop a better understanding of Chinese culture and amidst the economic and political changes that are taking place there. It is enlightening, humorous and truly a wonderful travel memoir.
4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2006