Teenager Da Chen gathers soil from the riverbank near his village before he leaves to attend university in Beijing. Those grains bear witness to his past and contain the now silent sounds of the river. Later, spilled onto the dry earth of the North, they will merge two parts of Da's life, as does the second volume of his lyrical trilogy of memoirs. Beginning with his first train ride to Beijing from his farm, we rumble along with him in the overcrowded and disease-ridden car to the university. Here the author faces a host of ghastly challenges, including poor living conditions, lack of food, and suicidal roommates. Undaunted by these hurdles and armed with a dogged determination to learn English and "all things Western," he must compete with every other student to win a chance to study in America -- a chance that rests in the shrewd and corrupt hands of the almighty professors. In a richly textured tale -- by turns poetic, ribald, hilarious, and heartbreaking -- Da keeps his indomitable spirit, but will he be any closer to attaining his goal? The bestselling author of Colors of the Mountain, Da Chen gives us an engrossing, gloriously written coming-of-age saga that chronicles a remarkable journey -- a travelogue of the heart.