Human Interest

After more than a decade of living in the Middle East and Communist China, The New Yorker journalist Evan Osnos has plenty of stories involving danger and intrigue. But it’s the story of a nation’s rebirth that fascinates him the most



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Evan Osnos has stuck his neck out bringing the world to his readers, whether that required him to barrel through war-torn Iraq in an amphibious assault vehicle or face down the secret police outside a Chinese dissident’s house.

Why the daunting life of a foreign correspondent? In Osnos’ case, reasons include the example of adventurous parents, a fascination with world affairs, and long-ago winters chasing pucks with the Greenwich Blues youth hockey program at the Dorothy Hamill Rink in Byram. “I was very small; I used to get knocked around,” Osnos recalls of his favorite activity as a child growing up in Greenwich. “I think in a funny way, the experience of playing hockey was the first time I began to feel at home in my body. I realized you could go out in the world and you weren’t going to be dashed to pieces. You weren’t quite as fragile as you thought you were.”

Now, after more than a decade of living overseas, Osnos is back on the East Coast, covering national affairs for The New Yorker while living in Washington, D.C., with wife Sarabeth Berman. This month marks the release of the thirty-seven-year-old’s first book, Age of Ambition, which draws upon eight years of reporting from China for the Chicago Tribune and The New Yorker.

Subtitled “Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China,” Osnos’ book profiles various Chinese nationals finding their place in a society in rapid flux, yet tightly bound by a sixty-five-year-old Communist regime. Subjects include a young foreign-language student who retains his optimism amid a life of diminishing returns, a gambler who ran afoul of gangsters, and a noncommunist patriot whose YouTube videos criticizing the West captivate his compatriots.

“Looking at it [China] from far away, it’s tempting to see it as threatening,” Osnos says. “It’s got this big military. It’s growing pretty fast.

“The truth is that up close, China feels just as anxious and self-conscious and flawed as we often feel about ourselves as Americans. One of the most important things about being there was to try and convey the sense of what it feels like to be Chinese; they are just as concerned about getting their kids in the right schools and the right jobs.   

A People Person

A Harvard graduate with multiple journalism prizes and appearances on NPR and Charlie Rose under his belt, Osnos spent years immersing himself in the Chinese experience, which he can draw upon extemporaneously with discursive, professorial ease.

To look at his unsmiling head shot on The New Yorker website is to be struck by the stoniest expression since Buster Keaton. His eyes are gimlet-hard and penetrating, his mouth fixed in an expression of serious skepticism. Meeting him in person, at his parents’ home on Round Hill where he has stopped in for a visit, requires an adjustment. He’s shorter than expected and looks more than ten years younger than he is. His eyes radiate enthusiasm, and a broad smile never leaves his face.

The niceness is genuine enough, and also useful to his work. One point that associates agree upon when talking about Osnos is that he really likes people and brings an unusual degree of empathy to what can often be a cold job.

Asked about the foresight of choosing to study China at Harvard in the 1990s, he shrugs it off as the result of “wandering” into a classroom. Regarding his fluent Mandarin, he immediately recalls Western friends who speak it better than he. “The more you learn the language, the more humble you get,” he says.

“One of Ev’s endearing qualities is modesty to the point of self-deprecation,” says his father, Peter.

The two sides of Evan Osnos may be personified by his parents, who met in Vietnam in the early 1970s while Peter covered the war there for The Washington Post and Susan counseled GIs in trouble for the Lawyers Military Defense Fund. He’s sharp, voluble and clear in making his points. She’s quieter, more relaxed and inclined to take a long view.

Evan’s older sister, Katherine Sanford, an instructor at Kaia Yoga in Glenville, recalls that when she came home complaining about something that happened at school, her mother would reply: “You know what’s unfair? Female genital mutilation.”

“She brings a real sense of perspective, a certain way you should treat the world around you,” Katherine says.

Today Peter is editor-at-large at PublicAffairs Books, a publishing house he helped found; Susan is an independent communications consultant with various human- and women’s-rights groups. It may be simplistic to say he supplied the storyteller in his son, and she the conscience, but it seems borne out in a conversation with them.

Talking about Evan’s days on the Blues, for example, Peter remembers a “good player” and, as evidence, references his son’s MVP award playing for Pucci Carting. Susan’s take is different: “I think his life was in danger on the ice.” Evan’s own version of the story corresponds more closely to his mother’s. The victory he remembers was getting back up and playing some more. “I can’t emphasize enough that I was a terrible hockey player,” Osnos chuckles. “I was a much better hockey player in my mind than I was on the ice. But it helped introduce me to Greenwich.”

 

Greenwich Agenda

  • Nigh Season: New Paintings By David Konigsberg

    2014.09.13
     @ Kenise Barnes Fine Art

    Dates: September 13 – October 31, 2014 Opening Reception: September 13, 6 – 8:30 PM  Public Invited   NIGH...

  • Undulate: Paintings By Julie Gross and Margaret Neill

    2014.09.13
     @ Kenise Barnes Fine Art

    GALLERY II Dates: September 13 – October 31, 2014 Opening Reception: September 13, 6 – 8:30 PM Public Invited...

  • Isaia Fall Trunk Show

    2014.09.19
     @ Richards

  • Parties at the JCC Center

    2014.09.02
     @ Stamford JCC

    A place to celebrate birthdays and special occasions. Be a guest at your own party! The JCC offers a wonderful space for you and your guests to...

  • The Many Faces of Multi Media

    2014.09.20
     @ Meli-Melo of Greenwich

    Dr. Julia Trebing, Director Creative Therapies in Stamford, CT exhibits her paintings at Meli-Melo Creperie & Juice Bar  during Sept...

  • SoulCycle GWCH for Make-A-Wish CT

    2014.09.20
     @ SoulCycle

    Make-A-Wish Connecticut is thrilled to be partnering with SoulCycle's Greenwich location for a charity ride on Saturday, September 20th!...

  • Wall Street Tennis Challenge

    2014.09.20
     @ Greenwich Country Club

    The goal of The Wall Street Tennis Challenge is to support the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation’s efforts while spreading awareness...

  • Nam Cho Trunk Show

    2014.09.20
     @ Richards

  • Arts & Crafts on Bedford

    2014.09.20
     @ Bedford Street

    Shop at over 100 craft and artisan boutiques on Bedford Street, which will be closed to traffic for the weekend. Dine in our extended sidewalk...

  • Puttin’ On The Dog Festival

    2014.09.21
     @ Roger Sherman Baldwin Park

    Puttin’ On The Dog Festival Greenwich, Connecticut the place to be on September 21st for dogs and their owners...

  • Candy Fairies Book Reading

    2014.09.21
     @ Imagine Candy

    SCARSDALE, NY, Imagine Candy brings the acclaimed children's author Helen Perelman, the writer of the wickedly sweet Candy Fairies book...

  • Chizi's Tale Book Launch Party

    2014.09.21
     @ Tudor Investment Campus

    You and your family are invited to join Diane's Books of Greenwich and TUSK USA to celebrate the launch of Chizi's Tale: The True Story...

  • Chizi's Tale Book Launch Party

    2014.09.21
     @ Tudor Investment Campus

    You and your family are invited to join Diane's Books of Greenwich and TUSK USA to celebrate the launch of Chizi's Tale: The True Story...

  • SM&NC Farm Market

    2014.06.15
     @ Stamford Museum & Nature Center

    Sundays, June 15 – October 5, 10am – 2pm We're thrilled to bring back the SM&NC Farm Market — now on Sundays!...

  • "Israel and the U.S."

    2014.09.22
     @ New Canaan Library

    The public is invited to attend a World Affairs Forum Great Decisions event featuring Seth Anziska, Columbia University. Mr. Anziska will speak...

  • Holistic Health Practitioner Kevin W. Reese

    2014.09.24
     @ Meli-Melo

    Meet Holistic Health Practitioner Kevin W. Reese & Take Home a Signed Copy of His New Book! Kevin is a holistic health practitioner,...

  • Annual State of the Town Address and Luncheon | Greenwich, CT

    2014.09.25
     @ Milbrook Club

    Greenwich Chamber of Commerce Annual State of the Town Address and Luncheon will be held at Milbrook Club. Registration 11:30am; start at...

  • Greenwich Harbor Sunset Wine Cruise | Greenwich, CT

    2014.06.05
     @ Delamar Hotel Dock

    The boat "Prudence" departs from the Delamar Hotel Dock on 500 Steamboat Rd. All the wine is sponsored through VALS with food...

  • Aaron Henry Trunk Show & Personal Appearance

    2014.09.26
     @ Richards


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