Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West
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Full of unforgettable figures and an unrelenting spirit of adventure, Strange Stones is a far-ranging, thought-provoking collection of Peter Hessler’s best reportage—a dazzling display of the powerful storytelling, shrewd cultural insight, and warm sense of humor that are the trademarks of his work.
Over the last decade, as a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of three books, Peter Hessler has lived in Asia and the United States, writing as both native and knowledgeable outsider in these two very different regions. This unusual perspective distinguishes Strange Stones, which showcases Hessler’s unmatched range as a storyteller. “Wild Flavor” invites readers along on a taste test between two rat restaurants in South China. One story profiles Yao Ming, basketball star and China’s most beloved export, another David Spindler, an obsessive and passionate historian of the Great Wall. In “Dr. Don,” Hessler writes movingly about a small-town pharmacist and his relationship with the people he serves.
While Hessler’s subjects and locations vary, subtle but deeply important thematic links bind these pieces—the strength of local traditions, the surprising overlap between apparently opposing cultures, and the powerful lessons drawn from individuals who straddle different worlds.
attached: “Chang, Peter and Leslie.” Immediately the mail began to arrive. Dear Mr. Peter Chang, You love saving money. Better yet, you love saving money and getting better service. So why haven’t you switched phone companies? Leslie and I almost never got anything. Peter Chang was the one, and in the early months he received much of our mail. Credit-card and phone companies sent flyers, as did car dealerships. Peter Chang received advertisements written in Korean Hangul and in traditional
minutes later, another sampan drifts past; somebody is selling coal. The move is complete when Huang Zongguo helps the women dismantle the old roof. Huang Po suns himself, stark naked, on the prow of the new boat. At 1:34 in the afternoon, the wake of a passing craft rocks the fishing boat, which lurches, creaks, and finally swings free of the frame. It floats. The Uranium Widows There are many uranium widows in southwestern Colorado, and some of them keep radioactive rocks around the house,
driving by fast. I have yet to meet a uranium widow who opposes the industry that killed her husband. Pat Mann has outlived two of them. The last one, George, died of lung cancer in 2000. “A lot of miners died from cancer, but they smoked,” she said. “George was a heavy smoker.” After we chatted for a while, Mann showed me her backyard rock collection, where she picked up a stone with yellow streaks so bright they could have been painted. She said that she didn’t believe that uranium really
person from a home with automobiles (three) was a nineteen-year-old sociology major whose father owned a plastics factory. When I asked what the factory produced, the woman ran a finger along the rubber lining of the Santana’s window. “This is one of the things we make,” she said. The students spent ten days on the parking range, and during that time they performed exactly three movements: a ninety-degree turn into a parking spot, the same maneuver in reverse, and parallel parking. Every day,
tall, told me. She explained that basketball was a good activity for her daughter after a day in school, but homework was more important. Like the other parents I met, Zhang was middle-class, and none of them expressed a wish for their child to have a future in sports. They were basketball moms in a country that selects its basketball moms by height—China cannot yet afford to provide every public school with coaches and sports facilities. Instead, the key to the nation’s sports strategy has been