Mr. Hessler’s book is more ambitious than its subtitle makes it sound. This work is as much about staying put — about hunkering down and observing — as it is about barreling down the highway.
Mr. Hessler spends years in a small farming village in the mountains north of Beijing, and more years in a quickly growing city in southeastern China. He watches, and takes careful notes, as both places are irrevocably changed by major new expressways. And every now and again he hits the road himself.
The big story Mr. Hessler has to tell in “Country Driving” is about a country that’s feverishly on the move. Speaking of the early years of the last decade, he writes, “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.” His book chronicles the flight from rural China, and from farming and folkways, to new cities and their sprouting factories.
The story of this emerging China has been told before, of course, by other writers, and by Mr. Hessler himself, in his previous books and magazine journalism. But the reporting in “Country Driving” is impressive in its scope.