Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Well Thumbed Book: China Road by Rob Gifford

by Karen Adler

Route 66: an iconic highway that has been immortalized in countless songs, TV shows, books and movies. It’s a staple of our pop culture. Driving Route 66 is on many people’s bucket lists. But how many have heard of Route 312? Dating back to the Silk Road, Route 312 is China’s equivalent of Route 66, and spans 3,000 miles, from Shanghai to Turkmenistan. Rob Gifford, the former China correspondent for National Public Radio, is an expert on all things China. When his tenure as China correspondent ends, he decides to take one last trip: to travel China’s Route 312. China Road is the highly readable result.

Gifford chronicles China’s recent emergence as a rising power in the twenty-first century, but he does so in a personal and engaging way.

The structure of the book makes it intensely readable. Gifford recounts interesting anecdotes as he travels through sprawling metropolises and tiny towns, talking to people from all walks of life. In one hilarious episode, he ends up giving a sermon in a church for a small Christian community. The community simply assumed that, as a white man, Gifford was qualified to act as a priest. As he travels through different provinces of China, Gifford alludes to and then finally presents his thesis: that China is a colonizing country. As he meets with some Uighers, members of an oppressed Muslim minority, as well as several better-known Tibetans, he reveals a hidden side of China: the side of those Chinese who are frustrated with the discrimination and corruption. And on the same trip, he meets entrepreneurs who are happy with China’s rising economic status.

All in all, China Road is a delightful, insightful novel that captures the heart of China as well as Route 66 captures the heart of America.

If you can’t afford to drive the highway itself, reading the book is the next best thing.

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