"Country Driving" by Peter Hessler
This is a travelogue published in 2010. The author first moved to China as a member of the Peace Corps, later worked as an English teacher, and then moved into journalism. The subtitle on my copy is "A Chinese Road Trip."
This book is divided into three parts. The first part documents the author's journey along the Great Wall, and also his travels in and around Beijing. The second part describes life in a village two hours north of Beijing, where the author rented a house. The third part explores life in a factory town, and the difficulties attending the establishment of an undergarment factory in central China.
The first section was by far the most interesting, while the second and third sections seemed a bit too long. The narrative detailing village life felt particularly forced, as if the author was trying too hard to make a story out of disconnected events. All three parts were good, but I found my interest flagging near the end of the book.
I also wonder about the citations at the end. Did the author really summon up most of this book from memory? I'm sure it's possible, but it seems unlikely. The citations at the end of the book are very sparse, and there are moments in the book where entire sections of Chinese text are quoted (and translated) without a citation. Did he really remember all of those things? Or was he writing them down the whole time? If he was writing them down, it would seem that the personal encounters he describes weren't quite as authentic as he would have readers believe.
"Country Driving" is a good book, and offers a fascinating glimpse of life in modern China. Reading it has only increased my desire to travel there. I wouldn't say that it's a perfect book, but it outshines many other travel books that I've read.