Easily digestible but bland.



Dreaming of success, hapless peasants move to the big city in Jia’s newly translated 2007 novel.

Liu, after optimistically changing his first name to “Happy,” arrives in the booming metropolis of Xi’an, in central China, with his friend Wufu in tow. Both men are part of a vast wave of displaced rural Chinese who can no longer make a living farming small plots in their home villages. First-person narrator Liu has a particular reason for choosing Xi’an: he sold a kidney to raise money for a marriage that never happened, and he knows his organ went to a Xi’an man. He also keeps a pair of high heels as a souvenir of his dashed conjugal hopes. Once in Xi’an, Liu and Wufu run up against the harsh realities of income inequality. The only work they can get is scavenging garbage, and they move into a ramshackle tenement shared with fellow trash pickers. Scatological slapstick runs throughout this rambling, episodic, and largely plotless tale. The first chapter begins with a flash-forward: Liu lugs the dead Wufu on his back as he offers explanations to police. Consequently, the manner of Wufu’s death is the main, if not the only, source of suspense. Many anecdotes illustrate the vagaries of culling and selling trash, a lucrative shadow enterprise existing alongside municipal waste management. References to obscure regional cuisine occasionally spice things up—noodle porridge, anyone? Liu’s stated reason for moving to the city, finding his “alter-ego,” the kidney recipient, is soon subsumed by his daily grind, until he encounters Mighty, an exemplar of China’s growing entrepreneurial class. Liu’s new love, Meng Yichun, who wears stilettos identical to his own, is a prostitute working out of a beauty salon on a street where all such salons are fronts for brothels. Although the characters suffer the socio-economic upheavals of contemporary China, they accept their plights and muddle through—this is not a novel of pointed political commentary.

Easily digestible but bland.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2017


Page Count: 492

Publisher: AmazonCrossing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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