In the heart of China's Sichuan province lies the small city of Fuling. Surrounded by the terraced hills of the Yangtze River valley, Fuling has long been a place of continuity, far from the bustling political centers of Beijing and Shanghai. But now Fuling is heading down a new path, and gradually, along with scores of other towns in this vast and ever-evolving country, it is becoming a place of change and vitality, tension and reform, disruption and growth. As the people of Fuling hold on to the China they know, they are also opening up and struggling to adapt to a world in which their fate is uncertain.
Fuling's position at the crossroads came into remarkably sharp focus when Peter Hessler arrived as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1996, marking the first time in more than half a century that the city had an American resident. He found himself teaching English and American literature at the local college, discovering how Shakespeare and other classics look when seen through the eyes of students who have been raised in the Sichuan countryside and educated in Communist Party doctrine. His students, though, are the ones who taught him about the ways of Fuling -- and about the complex process of understanding that takes place when one is immersed in a radically different society.
As he learns the language and comes to know the people, Hessler begins to see that it is indeed a unique moment for Fuling. In its past is Communist China's troubled history -- the struggles of land reform, the decades of misguided economic policies, and the unthinkable damage of the Cultural Revolution -- and in the future is the Three Gorges Dam, which upon completion will partly flood the city and force the resettlement of more than a million people. Making his way in the city and traveling by boat and train throughout Sichuan province and beyond, Hessler offers vivid descriptions of the people he meets, from priests to prostitutes and peasants to professors, and gives voice to their views. This is both an intimate personal story of his life in Fuling and a colorful, beautifully written account of the surrounding landscape and its history. Imaginative, poignant, funny, and utterly compelling, River Town is an unforgettable portrait of a city that, much like China itself, is seeking to understand both what it was and what it someday will be.
Never is Hessler's complex China, or his book, anything less than magnificent...An intimate, humorous, true-to-life portrait of modern China.
The New York Times Book Review
An important work of reportage.... A book that is like the river itself, both lovely and rebellious, and strong beneath the stillness of its surface.
Starred Review. A vivid and touching tribute to a place and its people.
Starred Review. Moving, mesmerizing.... Transcends the boundaries of the travel genre and will appeal to anyone wanting to learn more about the heart and soul of the Chinese people.
I think River Town is one of the most important books that will be published this coming year.... Amazing.
Abraham Verghese, author of The Tennis Partner and My Own Country
Hessler writes beautifully. River Town is memoir, travelogue, and astute anthropological writing woven into a book that is difficult to put down.
Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman
Tender, intelligent, and insightful, [this] is the work of a writer of rare talent; it deserves to become a classic.
Ha Jin, author of Waiting
Suffused with candor, compassion, insights, and intimate knowledge, River Town is a wonderful read.
Tim Cahill, author of Pass the Butterworms and Road Fever River Town is at once profoundly insightful, sharply critical, deeply admiring, thoroughly unsentimental, precisely written, and often very, very funny.
Recent Reader Reviews
Review (not rated)
by fuling boy good book I am from this river town Fuling and right now in Canada. I've read this book few years ago and was really impressed.
Rated of 5
by kyoozoo I wish I could give it a 4-1/2 I adored this book, though it fizzled out in the end.
Rated of 5
by Rockne Porter
I am an American business man who has been involved in China projects for fourteen years. Recently I read River Town and I recommend for any one planning to do business in China.
Few foreigners have the opportunity to witness life in Fueling... Read More
Rated of 5
by Simon Feng
I am a Chinese living in American and I really enjoy this book. I grew up in city of Guangdong province and educated in Xian, a city in the northwest of China. For me, the people in this book seams very familiar most of the time to me and sometime... Read More
Rated of 5
I am a Chinese living in the US. The book's vivid description of a small Sichuan city brings back a lot of memories about my hometown in Hunan, another southern province which is also famous for its spicy, spicy food and suffers a lot from the... Read More
Rated of 5
by Renee Chen
Beautifully written and extremely funny. I couldn't put it down once I started reading. I have rarely seen any writer depict Chinese characters so precisely, including native Chinese writers.
From within the hopelessness and terror of one of the darkest passages in human history, Dai Sijie has fashioned a beguiling and unexpected story about the resilience of the human spirit, the wonder of romantic awakening and the magical power of storytelling.
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