Synopses & Reviews
From the acclaimed author of River Town
comes a rare portrait, both intimate and epic, of twenty-first-century China as it opens its doors to the outside world.
A century ago, outsiders saw China's a place where nothing ever changes. Today the country has become one of the most dynamic regions on earth. That sense of time the contrast between past and present, and the rhythms that emerge in a vast, ever-evolving country is brilliantly illuminated by Peter Hessler in Oracle Bones, a book that explores the human side of China's transformation.
Hessler tells the story of modern-day China and its growing links to the Western world as seen through the lives of a handful of ordinary people. In addition to the author, an American writer living in Beijing, the narrative follows Polat, a member of a forgotten ethnic minority, who moves to the United States in searchof freedom; William Jefferson Foster, who grew up in an illiterate family and becomes a teacher; Emily, a migrant factory worker in a city without a past; and Chen Mengjia, a scholar of oracle-bone inscriptions, the earliest known writing in East Asia, and a man whosetragic story has been lost since the Cultural Revolution. All are migrants, emigrants, or wanderers who find themselves far from home, their lives dramatically changed by historical forces they are struggling to understand.
Peter Hessler excavates the past and puts a remarkable human face on the history he uncovers. In a narrative that gracefully moves between the ancient and the present, the East and the West, Hessler captures the soul of a country that is undergoing a momentous change before our eyes.
"Hessler, who first wrote about China in his 2001 bestseller, River Town, a portrait of his Peace Corps years in Fuling, continues his conflicted affair with that complex country in a second book that reflects the maturity of time and experience. Having lived in China for a decade now, fluent in Mandarin and working as a correspondent in Beijing, Hessler displays impressive knowledge, research and personal encounters as he brings the country's peoples, foibles and history into sharp focus. He frames his narrative with short chapters about Chinese artifacts: the underground city being excavated at Anyang; the oracle bones of the title ('inscriptions on shell and bone' considered the earliest known writing in East Asia); and he pays particular attention to how language affects culture, often using Chinese characters and symbols to make a point.A talented writer and journalist, Hessler has courage he's undercover at the Falun Gong demonstrations in Tiananmen Square and in the middle of anti-American protests in Nanjing after the Chinese embassy bombings in Belgrade and a sense of humor (the Nanjing rioters attack a statue of Ronald McDonald since Nanjing has no embassies). The tales of his Fuling students' adventures in the new China's boom towns; the Uighur trader, an ethnic minority from China's western border, who gets asylum after entering the U.S. with jiade (false) documents; the oracle bones scholar Chen Mengjia, who committed suicide during the Cultural Revolution all add a seductive element of human interest.There's little information available in China, we learn, but Hessler gets the stories that no one talks about and delivers them in a personal study that informs, entertains and mesmerizes. Everyone in the Western world should read this book." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"One of the book's main pleasures is its language; Hessler writes clearly and sympathetically." Washington Post
"Hessler has achieved something quite special in Oracle Bones, conveying the idiosyncrasies of China in a way that makes its people palpably human and distinctly memorable." Los Angeles Times
"Hessler must have spent a good deal of mental energy developing a structure for his book, determined to strike an aesthetic balance between the personal lives of the individual Chinese whose stories he tells and the physical and historical spaces they inhabit." New York Times
"Looking to the past for a hint of what's to come remains a good way of understanding China. Oracle Bones is an excellent place to start." USA Today
"Oracle Bones melds the multiple personalities and tangled story lines into a kaleidoscopic vision of a country surging toward an uncertain future....The book demands patience but rewards it well." San Francisco Chronicle
"Mr. Hessler's experiences in China from 1999-2002, contains so many storylines and subplots that it could almost have been written as several separate books. Still, the author weaves together these different elements to create a page-turner with great insight into Chinese society." Wall Street Journal
"It is a stunning book, populated by a cast of hundreds but told through the minds of five key characters....Hessler is a near-perfect intermediary." Portland Oregonian
"This is an important and informative work offering a unique perspective on where China may be headed." Booklist
"Hessler introduces debates on the nature of the Chinese language and the scholars who have carried on the debate." Library Journal
From the acclaimed author of "River Town" comes a rare portrait, both intimate and epic, of 21st-century China as it opens its doors to the outside world.
About the Author
Peter Hessler is the Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker and a contributor to National Geographic.