Learning is not limited to the classroom.

While Peter Hessler was in China to teach English and literature, what he learned isn’t in any textbook. His was a journey of life experiences, with many lessons coming from his students, while others were from being a stranger in a foreign land.

Hessler’s book River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (Harper Perennial, 2001) captures his two years (1996-98) as a Peace Corps volunteer in the city of Fuling in the Sichuan region of China.

While this area is much different today than it was when Hessler was a teacher there, that matters little as a reader. It’s easy to imagine other areas of China today resembling what the author describes. And if they don’t, it’s about his life at a certain time.

This book is captivating with its almost conversational tone. While it is a memoir, it is somewhat like a travelogue.

The people Hessler introduces us to are interesting in their own right. The cultural differences—and they seemed endless in a non-tiring way—were fascinating to read about. He shows how difficult it can be to be different when you are just being yourself. Acceptance of outsiders, well, does any city or country do it well?

Reading this so many years after it was written and after Hessler’s experience didn’t matter. It felt like it could be 2023. Time goes on and in many ways little changes.

This book took me on an unexpected journey that I am grateful for experiencing.

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