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.
In 18 elegant and thoughtful essays, almost all previously published in the New Yorker, prize-winning writer Hessler reflects on the foreign and the familiar, offering profiles of people who are often "chameleonlike, while others dreamed of returning home," as well as a few who were engaged in "creative bumbling." Although many of the essays focus on China, where he lived for a decade and a half, they range over topics from rat restaurants and life in a Chinese boomtown to life in the uranium town of Uravan, Colo., to the experience of moving from China back the U.S. In a profile of pharmacist Don Colcord, from Nucla, Colo., Hessler provides a brief history of the this small town that grew up over a century ago and was named by idealists that hoped the community would become the "center of Socialistic government for the world." Drawing upon the experience of one of his former students, Hessler provides a portrait of the Chinese boomtown Shenzen, illustrating how it became divided into two worlds, which were described by the residents as guannei and guanwai "within the customs" and "outside the customs." In one of the most hilarious and poignant essays, Hessler reflects on his move back to America after more than a decade away by recalling his victory in a half marathon in Las Vegas: "I had run alone down Frank Sinatra Boulevard, and I had appeared on Las Vegas television Finally I was home, and I had a story to tell; in America that was all you'd ever need."