Bestselling author Zhang Lijia recalls in her weblog how award winning journalist Peter Hessler inspired her to write her memoirs, “Socialism Is Great!”: A Worker’s Memoir of the New China. Hessler won the MacArthur Foundation award.
Among his three books, I’m particularly fond of River Town, for its simple and elegant prose, often with fresh twist: “Fuling is a city of legs – the gnarled caves of a stick-stick soldier, the bowed legs of an old man, the willow-thin ankles of a xiaojie…” I admire his sharp observation as an outsider. For example, he talks about how Chinese often laugh at a moment westerners would think impropriate, saying mentioning death, and points out it’s just a Chinese way to ease the awkwardness. I realized that’s what I’ve been doing without realizing why. And I love his subtle humour.
And I think he put just right amount about himself in the book, which is about a Chinese town, seeing through his eyes. Through the pages, he comes across as an extremely nice man who honestly reveals his more arrogant (only by his own standard) English-speaking Peter Hessler and more likable Chinese-speaking He Wei (何伟,his Chinese name).
I am delighted that his fame and enormous success have not blown up his ego. This spring during Beijing’s International Writer’s Festival, I saw him and his twin girls. He remains the same laid-back and amiable guy he always was and even the cute babies are easy-going.