Thursday, July 22, 2010

Literary Bite Update: Country Driving (again)

A couple weeks ago I completely denigrated this book. I said it was boring and terrible and I QUIT reading it.

But then I was between The Help and Going Solo, and there it was sitting on my bedside table. So I decided to give it another shot. And now here I am, coming back to you tail between my legs to say…I was wrong. I liked it. And I’m glad I finished it. (LLC is getting so much satisfaction from this post right now it just kills me.)

Because when I first told LLC that I hated
Country Driving, she explained that it was a 3-part book. The first part is about driving along the Great Wall (that was the part that should have been interesting but really wasn’t). Part 2 is about village life, and Part 3 is about a factory town.

I originally quit after Part 1. If you decide to read this book, either read the whole thing and just know that it will get better…or skip Part 1 entirely. The second two parts were more about people then cars, and were more similar to Hessler’s first book, River Town, which I loved.

Part 2 is about the “Old China,” a country village with only one child left, and the gradual modernization of that village. Hessler becomes close with one family, and the characters feel very real and interesting.

Part 3 is about the “New China” of migrant workers, factories, and business. Hessler attaches himself to a factory that manufactures tiny metal rings for bra straps, and explores the stories of various people connected to the factory and the way the new Chinese factories do business and politics. (This part reminded me of a documentary
LLC and I saw a few weeks ago, Last Train Home.)

So on the surface this book is about driving around China, but more broadly it’s about a country constantly on the move. “To drive across China was to find yourself in the middle of the largest migration in human history — nearly one-tenth of the population was on the road, finding new lives away from home.”

And that, my friends, is an example of humility and openmindedness. I was wrong and I admit it. If you read this book, let me know what you think!

Check out this NYT review.

And this blog review that completely disagrees with me (he likes the first part best. To each his/her own!)

Click here to read Hessler's short story (an excerpt from the book), "How I Got My Chinese Drivers License."