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River Town

Two Years on the Yangtze
Narrated by: Peter Berkrot
Length: 14 hrs and 36 mins
5 out of 5 stars (4 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In the heart of China's Sichuan province, amid the terraced hills of the Yangtze River valley, lies the remote town of Fuling. Like many other small cities in this ever-evolving country, Fuling is heading down a new path of change and growth, which came into remarkably sharp focus when Peter Hessler arrived as a Peace Corps volunteer, marking the first time in more than half a century that the city had an American resident. Hessler taught English and American literature at the local college, but it was his students who taught him about the complex processes of understanding that take place when one is immersed in a radically different society.

Poignant, thoughtful, funny, and enormously compelling, River Town is an unforgettable portrait of a city that is seeking to understand both what it was and what it someday will be.

©2006 Peter Hessler (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Hessler's writing is lovely. His observations are evocative, insightful, and often poignant--and just as often, funny. It's a pleasure to read of his (mis)adventures. Hessler returned to the U.S. with a new perspective on modern China and its people. After reading River Town, you'll have one, too." (Amazon.com review)

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    5 out of 5 stars

Brilliant story of an unforgettable experience in China

Nowadays, Everything between China and America is viewed through the uncompromising lense of geopolitics where differences are inflated and zero-sum prevails. This book harkens back to a time where this was not so and shows that there is actually a lot in common between the two countries despite, or perhaps because of, their huge differences and contradictions.

This book offers a detailed look at living in a remote Chinese town by a foreigner, something that even Chinese people from bigger places will hesitate to do. The story is fantastic and poignant, and the performance is on-point though I did take a point away, perhaps harshly, for the poor pronunciation of Chinese. Overall, a very enjoyable listen and I would recommend this to anyone who wants to learn about China beyond the big cities, big newspapers, and big egos.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Abstraction
  • 10-07-2011

Peter Berkrot Again?

Having lived in China for 16 years, I am an avid fan of Hessler's work, and have hard copies of all three books as well as the audiobooks. However, I prefer Audiobooks, because of my lifestyle. What I don't understand is why Hessler would allow Berkrot to read his books. The books are all 5-Star, but Berkrot is a lousy choice for books filled with Chinese characters and Chinese words. I recognize that I am biased because I live in China and know when Chinese is being butchered, and I recognize that the cringes I have to deal with at every other word are partially my problem. I guess my collection of Audible books with Chinese topics and themes would probably rival any other collector's, so I consider myself a knowledgeable critic on this subject. The pity of it is, while Hessler's hardbacks are on my top shelf, Berkrot is, hands down, the "worst" narrator for Chinese-themed books that I have listened to - nobody butchers like Berkrot. Hessler has spent so much time in China - why would he want someone to read his book that does such a poor job with Chinese names and words? I hope Hessler is reading these, as I'm sure he'll keep writing about China, and I hope he can find someone who can at least get, say 5% of the pronunciations in the realm of acceptable. If Berkrot "must" read your work, tell him its "Bei "J"ing. It has a "J" because it sounds the same as John or Jeff. Would Berkrot say Zhohn and Zheff??

29 of 32 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • CHRISTIAN
  • 14-01-2011

Interesting insight, fair oration

Though this narrative is almost 15 years old (Hessler worked for the Peace Corps in the late 1990's), and that seems a long time ago at the frantic pace of change in present day China, most of the observations seem relevant today, especially those addressing the human dimension. The narrator has a young 20s male voice, a bit on the nasal side, but reading at a lively and varied rhythm. He is great at making distinct voices for different characters. As is often the case with books on China, this reader mispronounces many Chinese names, but it's a minor issue. He has a good sense for dramatic pauses and for getting "in character." It's easy to mistakenly think that you're listening to the author himself.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Stephen
  • 08-02-2016

Excellent book let down by poor narration

I really enjoyed this book. Having spent a year in China at about the same time referred to in this book, it brought back many memories of the China of that period. The author is a keen observer of daily life and an excellent writer. I also admired his courage in getting out among the people and his persistence in learning the language.

The narration of the story is quite another matter. The book is sprinkled with Chinese words and while the narrator can be forgiven for not pronouncing them all correctly, no attempt has been made to find out the correct pronunciation for even the most commonly used words, some of which are repeated literally hundreds of times throughout the book, always incorrectly. In addition, whenever the book quotes a Chinese person the reader goes into some weird accent, a bit like a caricature of a Mexican accent. I was left thinking that the narrator had probably never met a Chinese person in his life.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Susan
  • 30-10-2012

Great story but didn't like the narrator

Would you try another book from Peter Hessler and/or Peter Berkrot?

Hessler's writing is good, but it was difficult for me to keep with it because I did not care for
Berkrot's voice.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • S
  • 02-09-2019

Amazing book, terrible audiobook narrator

Phenomenal book and a classic on China. However, the narrator for the audiobook is barely tolerable. It sounds like yelling throughout the narration, imitations of female voices and Chinese accents distractingly terrible, and gross mispronunciations of all Chinese words/names/cities. Given that this book is famous in China research, they should have chosen a quality audiobook narrator who also had the bare basics of Chinese pronunciation.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Walter R. Huber
  • 24-03-2018

Read the book, skip the audio

I loved this book and have read it twice. I thought it would be nice to listen to it while walking. The narrator has a pleasant enough voice but his Chinese is worse than mine (which is saying something). He also has an annoying (to me) habit of taking on a host of different voices. This would be fine but there are so many of them it is distracting. I loved the book but can’t recommend the audio.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Sam
  • 16-11-2010

Great book

Loved the book. More than one of my friends that live in China told me that their interest in the country and the language was inspired by this book. I can see why. In the reviews of the Hessler Trilogy the narrator is getting a lot of hassle for his voice and his butchery of the Chinese. It can be painful initially for someone that speaks Chinese to listen to the mispronunciations and I would recommend that books that contain a lot of dialogue in a foreign language be read by someone that has a basic knowledge of that language. However, I did enjoy the accents the narrator provided. He has an amazing faculty for mimicking Chinese prostitutes and old ladies.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 20-09-2019

Fascinating!

I love the story and the writing, but the narration seems i'll fitted. If I had to do over, I'd read it!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 21-09-2012

Very unexpected.

Any additional comments?

I picked this up on a whim, it was on sale. It started out a bit slowly, but really sucked me in. I really enjoyed it, especially the last 1/2. What a fascinating couple of years he spent in China.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Richard Lee
  • 02-12-2019

Transcendental

I was born and raised in China, and I read Chinese version when I was in a Chinese high school. I have been always a big fan of Peter Hessler. For me, listening to the stories in this audiobook felt strangely familiar, because I almost felt the same as Peter Hessler when I went back home. The book was written with a distinctly American perspective but also with “Chinese characteristics”, which made the book so authentic and so emotionally touching.

After thirty years of Reform and Opening, many things have changed, and many things haven’t. As a young Chinese, I was so familiar with propaganda that Hessler’s attitude to propaganda bothered me at the beginning. However, I also realized how much materials had been censored that the Chinese version wasn’t political at all comparing to the original version. It felt like reading an irrelevant book sometimes, with so many “extra” political jokes and comments. I laughed out loud so many times when I was driving on freeway, listening to the deleted narrative quietly.

Peter Hessler was an outsider, but he had made great efforts to understand China. He didn’t simply limit himself to criticize China and the political system endlessly. He could have easily done so, like so many people who wrote books on China. He didn’t. He looked deeply into the way of Chinese life. His comments on every aspect of Fuling’s life were profound, and yet funny.

After two years living in the US, I found his experience in Fuling so relevant. As I am still trying to get used to the “American way of life”, it’s very helpful to know that an American had struggled as me, trying to make sense of the world in front of us.

At the end of the book, he revealed his respect to the strengths and diligence of Chinese people after two years in a remote, underdeveloped city located in western China. I still remembered that in the epilogue of the Chinese version, he went back to Fuling again, and he couldn’t find his way to the college because the city had been sculptured by urbanization and economic development so profoundly, as well as the rest of China.

Time has changed, the city has changed, but the river is still the same as it has been.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Pete Millwood
  • 13-06-2012

Absorbing book ruined by narrator

This is an engrossing, accessible but nonetheless perspicacious book, one of several on China written by Hessler. However, this recording is ruined by the narrator's lack of knowledge of the Chinese language. Although in English, the book includes references to many Chinese terms and sayings which are hopelessly mispronounced by Peter Berkrot. To anyone with even a superficial knowledge of how Chinese should sound, this is distracting and detracting. This may not be a problem for those with absolutely no knowledge of Chinese (Berkrot cannot even pronounce the most fundamental and basic of words), although it would nonetheless give such listeners a false impression of how Chinese is supposed to sound. While it is understandable that it would have been difficult to get a narrator who also spoke fluent Mandarin, it surely could not have been that difficult to find someone who had at least some familiarity with the language. A shame.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 08-02-2016

Great book, Appalling Narrator

How did the narrator detract from the book?

He can't pronounce a single word of Chinese correctly. The city of Chengdu is refered to as Chengde about fifty times despite Chengde being a completely different city. At another point he reads the character Xue over and over again, during a section where the author discusses studying Chinese. He says Xue about 25 times in a row, slowly, over and over. He says it wrong every single time.

He's actually a decent narrator but somewhere between the pronunciation and his insistence on giving all the Chinese characters a semi-racist-sounding Chinaman-voice he ruins the whole thing.

It would have taken half an hour to learn how to say the fifty or so Chinese words in the book. He didn't bother. It's an insult to the author and an insult to the audience.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • lebelette
  • 01-06-2014

Great insight into rural China

What made the experience of listening to River Town the most enjoyable?

Really great personal anecdotes from the author

What did you like best about this story?

Listening to the interactions between the author and his students and how their relationship developed.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

I don't personally like the Chinese accent used when reading out the lines from the Chinese characters and I think it would've been better to have someone who had better Mandarin tones for the Chinese names/words (but appreciate that's asking quite a lot)

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Listening to him recount Chinese students with names like "Mo' Money" act out Don Quixote

Any additional comments?

A great easy listen.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Joanne
  • 31-12-2011

very good book, highly recommend it

I loved this book - I have listened to it numerous times and it is still as good! It takes you into China and you feel like you are there sharing the authors experiences with him. The narrator is excellent as well - it makes a big difference when they pronounce the words correctly and he has a lovely voice. The author has a very good way of explaining how he felt as an outsider in China, and how he also fitted in. I have since downloaded all his books on here and really wish there was more! If you want to know about Chinese culture and their everyday lives then this is the book for you. It has made me really want to visit this fascinating country.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Adrian J. Smith
  • 01-10-2019

An account of China with a personal touch

River Town is both a heartfelt memoir and a rare insight into China of the late 1990s containing both memoirs of a lost China, and a China that still lives on.
While Hessler describes a part of Sichuan (or later Chongqing Municipality) that was greatly affected by the Three Gorges Dam, much of the China that Hessler describes remains ever present in today’s day and age.
As a teacher in China myself, I am all too familiar with the mindset and social phenomena that is every bit as real now (late 2019) as it was in Hessler’s 2 year stay in Fuling. While China may be less conservative, particularly with regard to relationships, much of the societal pressures, organizational approaches and political approach remain every bit a part of China now as it was back then.
Hessler writes with a personal touch, with a keen personal insight, creating an atmosphere which creates an emotional connection with the reader. The book maintains a balance between sentimentality and realism, though Hessler exhibits a deep emotional connection with Fu Ling and China, he makes no attempt to gloss over the negative social phenomena, the injustice, bullying and social ostracism he encounters during his stay.
There are many books on Chinese history, modern Chinese social phenomena, but if one wants a book on China with a personal touch, few come better than this.

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 25-06-2019

stunning

Having lived in China for a year, many of my own experiences mirror Peter's, and so listening to this book has been an absolute pleasure. Peter's writing has a way of transporting you, taking you on a visual stroll through his memories, and slowly building a picture of the world. I never felt as though I was reading his account of China, but rather sharing the story with him, connecting through the emotional impact that China has on everyone who has been there for some period of time.

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  • Tommy
  • 05-07-2016

Excellent, touching and funny.

I am a teacher in China and although my time is 20years on from Peter's, many of his experiences echo my own - or rather mine echo his, having been diluted somewhat by the increased external influences on China over the past two decades. The narrative really helps one comprehend the 'Chinese' approach to life and subtlety draws humour by highlighting authorial experiences from both America and China. The only problem I have with this audiobook is with the narrator's Mandarin pronunciation, however people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones and I doubt my efforts would be more accurate.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Alison
  • 04-05-2013

Gentle yet also quite compelling

The experiences of the teacher and his fellow teacher at the college where they were based for 2 years are fascinating. Because it was written about a time period when China was slowly beginning to open up but was very far from where it is now (2013), the book seems to span the two eras really effectively.

The writing is very straight-forward, journalistic in its style with limited descriptive passages but where they do appear, they are evocative.

The reader's voice took me a while to warm to but this was fine after about 1 hour. Others have mentioned that the way Chinese words are pronounced is wrong sometimes - but as I speak no Chinese at all, it didn't bother me!