Friends! I have caught the dreaded 5-week cough that’s going around, and am trying to short-circuit it by lying low for a few days and reading as much as possible. The reading is going smashingly because I have just recently discovered the work of Peter Hessler. Normally, most of the writers I fall for are elderly British women (Jane Gardam, Claire Tomalin, Hilary Mantel), so I’m especially pleased that Hessler is… not that.
I first noticed his byline in an article about Chinese lingerie dealers in Egypt. The subject itself was astonishing enough, but I really loved Hessler’s journalistic voice. It was both respectful to its subjects yet alive to the many absurdities of the situation. And I was struck by the depth of knowledge he brought: Hessler is fluent in both Mandarin and Arabic, and seems delicately attuned to both cultures. Nick then bought me a copy of Strange Stones, a collection of essays from Hessler’s last decade of reporting from China and elsewhere.
So, this week, I’m going to leave you with 3 things I’ve learned from Peter Hessler’s journalism:
1. Arabic is inflected for gender. Yes: there is “women’s Arabic” and “men’s Arabic”, and they sound different.
2. The Great Wall of China was not a single project. Different sections were built at different times for different reasons. (Also, you cannot see it from the moon. That’s a myth.)
3. The Japanese yakuza (mafia) includes a lot of Korean-Japanese and other ethnicities traditionally scorned in Japan. The yakuza began as a culture of outsiders and underdogs who took advantage of the economic and political chaos that followed the Second World War.
Crazy and tantalizing, right? I’m going to keep reading.