Peter Hessler

A fluent Mandarin speaker, The New Yorker’s Peter Hessler has lived for over a decade among Beijing’s booming towers and China’s rural hamlets. The latter are emptying out, as we’ve read in books including his own River Town and Oracle Bones. All the young have departed for factories in the south. During his time in the village of Sancha, he notes, most residents are aging peasants unable to own their tiny plots. But an exploding network of highways (and cars) means that commerce works both ways, and there are unexpected developments in Country Driving: A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory (HarperCollins, $27.99). Tourists, driving in new cars, start flocking to Sancha, located on a hill overlooking the Great Wall. Suddenly it’s a tourist destination. (In another section of the book, Hessler follows the wall to Mongolia.) And the downcast Sancha peasants whom Hessler befriends prove to be remarkably resourceful: They may not be able to purchase their land, controlled by the Communist Party, but they can improve it with restaurants and guesthouses that provide enough money to send their kids down to the city for an education. It’s the paradox of modern China, our largest trading partner (and creditor). Beneath the economic upheaval, Hessler finds a stoic people who, after millennia of change, may be adapting to globalization better than us. (Also Thurs: noon at University Book Store and 7 p.m. at Third Place Books) BRIAN MILLER

Wed., Feb. 24, 7 p.m.; Thu., Feb. 25, 12 & 7 p.m., 2010

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