Oracle Bones tells its engaging and compelling story through the lives of a handful of ordinary people. The author himself is a Westerner, a journalist living in Beijing. The narrative tracks his story along with that of Polat, a trader and member of a forgotten ethnic minority, who moves to the West in search of political freedom and a new life; William Jefferson Foster, who grew up in an illiterate family in a remote village; Emily, a migrant factory worker in a city without a past; and Chen Mengjia, a scholar of oracle-bone inscriptions -- the earliest known writing in East Asia -- and a man whose mysterious story has been lost since his suicide forty years ago, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. All of them are migrants, emigrants, or wanderers who find themselves far from home, their lives dramatically changed by historical forces they are struggling to understand. Hessler excavates the past in search of meaning, his intimate approach putting a remarkable human face on the history he uncovers.
With him we discover not only where the great, influential cultures of East and West intersect, but also how the conjunction of past and present creates today's China -- and how people create meaning out of chaotic world events.
Peter Hessler is a correspondent for The New Yorker and a contributor to National Geographic. He is the author of River Town, published in both hardback and paperback by John Murray and winner of the 2001 Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize. Raised in Columbia, Missouri, he now lives in Beijing.