Saturday’s Book: “Oracle Bones” by Peter Hessler

Different perspectives! Photo by Iddo Epstein
Different perspectives!
Photo by Iddo Epstein

I’ve been enjoying Peter Hessler’s articles in the New Yorker magazine for years, so was understandably delighted to find his book “Oracle Bones” at the free readers-for-readers corner at our library*.

It’s not a travel book about China. It is a great many things. Peter Hessler lived in China for many years and his conversations / interactions with people were direct, without the filters of interpreters.  Yet he doesn’t seem to be trying to claim “I KNOW China and am an absolute authority of this diverse country”. Hessler gives us a long-term  personal view of what it was like to be a foreigner living in China in general, and during global events such as 9/11. He also follows the lives of certain people over the span of quite a few years, such as former students of his and people he met. These are not just descriptions, but quotes from conversations and correspondence.

But that’s just one part of the book. The framework of explaining the significance of the ancient oracle bones (earliest forms of local writing!), how archaeology in China is a whole different ball game from what I’m familiar with in this archaeological rich area, adds a whole new dimension to all that I have ever read about the country. Sadly, it seems that everywhere study of the past and politics cannot be separated…

In short, the style is very readable and easy to get into it, though quite long. I took my time reading it but am very glad I did.

*Note: A while I found a treasure trove of three books the library took out of its collection and added to the “free for readers to take” corner. I guess the library decided these books aren’t being borrowed enough, hence not worth keeping. But I’m having a great time with them! This is the second of the three (The Hare with the Amber Eyes was the first). I have now begun the third: “Farewell Anatolia” by Dido Sotiriou.


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