by Peter Hessler
If you come to a flooded road, what should you do? Accelerate? Drive slowly if the water is shallow? Or find a pedestrian and make him cross ahead of you? The question, in a driver's exam, opens and sets the tone for Peter Hessler's well-conceived and well-written Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip. The book provides memorable accounts of how life is lived in places the author travels by car, starting with trips guided by the Great Wall and ending with the establishment of a factory in Zhejiang. En route, he becomes used to driving over grain purposefully placed on roads so moving vehicles provide a free threshing service. But he cannot believe it when he comes across villagers digging holes ostensibly for the planting of trees. Officials pay them off with noodles and pocket money intended for the trees. In the second of three sections, Hessler writes about Sancha, a village near Beijing where he finds a place that feels like home although the house he rents has mud walls papered with the People's Daily and comes with curious neighbours. It's in Sancha that we see up close modernity at work changing lives. Country Driving is a wonderful way to drive home facts about China.