A collection of personal essays and profiles that reveal the wonders and woes of the East.
New Yorker staff writer Hessler (Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory, 2010, etc.) bridges the divide between East and West with riveting reportage. In the opening essay, “Wild Flavor,” the author chronicles his visit to a restaurant in southern China, where the waitress casually asked, “Do you want a big rat or a small rat?”—a line that embodies the collection’s interest in celebrating and questioning cultural differences. In the title essay, Hessler and an old Peace Corps buddy take a road trip across northern China, and the well-seasoned travelers find themselves duped at every turn—further evidence of the slow learning curve between cultures. Yet perhaps the theme running throughout most of these essays is the author’s examination of the perils of living in a closed society, in which even the assistant manager of the aforementioned rat restaurant refused to give his name for the book (despite the fact that most of the village shares his name). In “Boomtown Girl,” Hessler best elucidates this fear of oversharing with outsiders by introducing readers to Emily, a Chinese teacher-in-training who bucked all traditional gender roles and set out a future of her own making. While much of the book depicts a country consisting of walls, gates and fences—both literally and metaphorically—Emily’s idealism reveals a new breed of Chinese woman, one whose intrepid spirit serves her well.
A rich, vibrant collection that pries wide the door to the East, welcoming Western readers inside.