The Washington Post reviews Peter Hessler’s new book, Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory, starting with a section about Sancha, the village outside Beijing where he rented a house:
“In the beginning I had seen the village as an escape, a place where I could hike and write in peace; but now I went there for different reasons. In China it was the closest I ever came to home.” Eventually, “after four years, Sancha felt as familiar as any place I had known during adulthood,” and “the longer I stayed in Sancha, the more I appreciated the rhythm of the countryside, the way that life moved through the cycles of the seasons. . . . Progress had arrived: each year led to some new major change, and always there was the sense of time rushing ahead. But the regularity of the seasons helped me keep my bearings.”
Hessler’s account of his years in Sancha is for me the highlight of “Country Driving,” but that in no way diminishes my admiration for the other two sections. In the first, “The Wall,” he takes a couple of car trips through places along the routes of various sections of the Great Wall — in fact it is not a single wall but a mishmash of many, built over the centuries primarily to resist Mongol invaders — that are rapidly emptying out as people rush from the country to the city. There is much here about the urbanization of China, a phenomenon far more vast and unsettling than most of us in the West understand, but there is also wonderful stuff about Chinese rental cars, speed traps, license-exam questions and the drivers themselves.