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text 2015-05-13 21:15
Dziwne kamienie. Opowieści ze Wschodu i z Zachodu - Peter Hessler,Robert Pucek

Nadejszła wiekopomna chwila - książka, na którą czekałam okazała się być klapą. Miało być o Chinach, o Ameryce, o relacjach Wschodu z Zachodem. Jest miszmasz szczurów w czarnej fasoli z wydobyciem uranu z Kolorado. W sumie nie byłoby tak źle gdyby eseje zamieszczone w Dziwnych kamieniach miały jakiś wspólny mianownik. Niestety z matmy zawsze byłam tępa, mianownika nie znalazłam.

Książka to zbiór opowieści z kilku rejonów Chin napisanych na przestrzeni dziesięciu lat. Czytelnik znajdzie w niej również kilka historii rozgrywających się w Stanach Zjednoczonych. Problem polega na tym, że tematyka jest bardzo szeroka.I rozrzucona bez ładu i składu. Od nieco egzotycznej dla cudzoziemców kuchni południowych Chin, przez Olimpiadę w Pekinie, po zawodową koszykówkę. Gdyby chociaż jakoś rozmyślnie je pogrupować...Na niekorzyść działa również przedział czasowy, w którym eseje powstały. Hessler rozwijał się jako pisarz przez cały ten okres, miewał dni lepsze i gorsze i niestety łatwo wyłapać te niedociągnięcia. Do gustu przypadł mi rozdział o Tamie Trzech Przełomów. Ta kontrowersyjna budowla wprowadziła niemałe zamieszanie w życiu prowincji Hubei. Rejsy po Jangcy już nigdy nie będą takie same. Hessler w swoim krótkim eseju przedstawia rodzinę, która obserwując wzbierające wody, pakuje swój dobytek i powoli transportuje swój dobytek wyżej i wyżej...Chyba najciekawszy fragment Dziwnych Kamieni.

Pomimo wszystko zarekomenduje Hesslera jako autora innej książki, bardziej sympatycznej: Przez drogi i bezdroża. Podróż po nowych Chinach. Będzie jakoś tak ciekawiej. W przypadku Hesslera długi pobyt w Chinach nie uczynił go lepszym pisarzem, jego reportaże nie powalają potoczystym językiem. Ale na szansę zasługuje.



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review 2013-03-08 00:00
River Town
River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.) - Peter Hessler

Interesting and well written, but some sections could have been tightened. The author spent two years (1996-1998) as a Peace Corp volunteer in Fuling, China. It is a remote town located in the Yangtze River Valley, in the heartland of the Sichuan province. He taught English, he learned Chinese and through his own learning, teaching, talking and living with these people he comes to understand what it is to be Chinese. His experience was one of total immersion. What he learned he has shared with us, and we don’t have to get sick as he did. We don’t have to be ostracized as he was.

Two things make this book better than most such books by Peace Corps volunteers. He really came to understand the people he lived with and his writing is better than most.

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review 2013-03-01 00:00
Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory - Peter Hessler 3 1/2 stars. Hessler's writing is engaging and informative; he has interesting stories and made me laugh more than a few times. I definitely learned a lot about China and it was enjoyable to read. Then why only 3 1/2 stars? It's really hard to put my finger on (and also I think I've been getting pickier in my ratings over the last few months). One thing that got on my nerves was how he'd dedicate a sentence or two to describe a woman as being "pretty"--leaving aside my total disintrest in this dude's opinion on someone's beauty, "pretty," "attractive," etc are not very descriptive. Round face? Pointed chin? Hair in a tight bun? Rosy cheeks? Those types of words actually put a picture in my mind. The author didn't seem overtly condescending toward his subjects but I sensed some judgment at times (but not always; and them sometimes when I was expecting some kind of judgment or commentary, for example on sexism/classism--nope, not there).

Anyway... there are people and purposes I would definitely recommend this book for. There were passages or sections where it did paint a pretty vivid picture of China (not that I have any first hand experience of the place).
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review 2012-04-07 00:00
Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present - Peter Hessler From the tiny photo on the back cover of "Oracle Bones", Peter Hassler looks like a friend of mine, A., when I was at the university.

One day, around 10 years ago, I met this fellow out of our "Media and communication" department and I told him that he should have tried doing some internship in order to get the 5 credits he missed before getting his degree.

I remember how he originally wanted to take part to some sort of seminar on semiotics or something and I insisted that it was a waste of time.
"Oh come on! - I told A. - Do something practical, instead. Why don't you look for a radio, a magazine, a local tv having an internship programme through the department?".

I was working for a radio in those days and started deserting most of the university lectures due to my reporting all over the town. I wanted my friends to enjoy something similar rather than getting bored over useless theory.
A. listened carefully to me but didn't seem quite sure on taking my words for granted.

A few months later I met A. again at the headquarters of Romano Prodi, a former Italian PM who was campaigning again against Berlusconi. My friend was carrying a big camera and - just like me - had a press pass around his neck. "You see? I followed your tip - he told me - it's just that they needed cameramen rather than reporters but I took the opportunity nonetheless".

Six years later I do write some daily articles from the UK for an Italian newspaper, but get my living thanks to another job which is not related to journalism. My friend A. did so much better. He became the anchorman of prime time news on a regional channel, the host of a popular radio programme and delivered some features for a national television. And he's quite good in what he does.

Well, things are pleasantly unexpected sometimes.

Peter Hessler has a similar but far more successful story to tell.
He left the US and Missouri when he was still freshly-faced, freshly-graduated at Princeton and 20 something. At that time, young Hessler had only published an extended etnography work on a tiny place named Sikeston somewhere in the States and spent some time in Oxford, UK as an English literature student. As a journalist he was a nobody.

Then, comes the unexpected step. As the same Hessler in this book tells us, he joined the Peace Corps and went to China as a volunteer.
After some months spent teaching English and learning Mandarin in a small town along the shores of mighty river Yangtze in which he was one of the only two foreigners, (he wrote a book about that) Hessler came back to the US.

As in his homecountry, the still freshly-faced but far more experienced was not able to find the job he looked for, he returned to China.

And in all but friendly Bejing, Hessler had more luck than in the US. Working as a humble clipper "the last one they had" for the Wall Street Journal he got money enough for renting a room of his own, wandering around the Chinese capital and spending a lot of time chatting with people in cheap restaurants and cafes.

Sometimes he did some trekking in the countryside brought his own tent and slept outdoors. Sometimes he did some random translation job. Sometimes he looked for an interesting story to cover as a freelance: at first failing quite miserably in this last respect.

I am insisting so much on the author of "Oracle Bones" because this book has very much to do with Peter Hessler. He's all but shy in talking about himself, his successes and his failures, but never intrusive. He doesn't definitely show off.
Still it's from Hessler personal life in Bejing that I learned many interesting things on how China as a nation changed from 2000 onwards.

"Oracle Bones" is a fascinating reading on two levels: in telling how Hessler made it in becoming a famous freelance reporter and in showing many things that happened when PH was writing around, the people he met, the stories he jumped into, the troubles he had with the police and so on.

All tied up with the mail and paper correspondence Hessler kept with some of his former students who seem all very confident and at ease while writing to him about their adult lives. One starts to like and sympathize with these Chinese people who - unlucky choice - are all introduced with their English nicknames.

Albeit a few unfortunate stylistic choices, this is an author who has a great passion, respect and care for China in all of its aspects and is eager to talk Mandarin with common people rather than with politicians or entrepreneurs. Hessler poses many questions to himself and is considerate enough to investigate over Chinese history.

It's "artifacts" the recurrent term here (even too much). Hessler looks for artifacts wherever he goes from Manchuria to Taiwan passing through Sichuan and Nanking. It's artifacts that matter because they can always teach you something about the people who made them and about those who discovered or preserved them during difficult times such as the so called Cultural Revolution.

After reading "Oracle Bones" I can say I learned many things I didn't know about China and I do trust the author who told me about them here.
Unlike his wife Leslie T.Chang who was a bit clumsy in mixing up her point of view and family history with the personal stories of Chinese workers in "Factory Girls", Peter Hessler is very much at ease with the subject he chose and never loses the grip on its audience.

The fact that Hessler himself has now relocated (with formerly miss Chang) to Cairo and is currently becoming fluent in Arabic in order to report from the Middle East is just another unexpected step.
I wish I knew how to make it. Unfortunately, I'm hopeless with foreign languages.
Oh well, I will let Peter come first!
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review 2011-03-16 00:00
Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory - Peter Hessler Part travelogue, part reportage. In addition to the pleasures of reading about Chinese culture and development, it's enjoyable to see Hessler's own growth across his three China books.
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