Capitalism in contemporary China is the background to a nonstop hunt by migrant workers, a billionaire, and government officials—for a purse.
"He’d lost a pack and found a purse” is the recurring theme of Chinese author Liu’s new novel. Such a simple thing lost but so complex the machinations to get it back. The pack contains an IOU for 60,000 yuan, and Liu Yeujin, a resourceful cook at a major construction project in Beijing, is on the trail of the thief who took it. Incessant plot twists take on a comic, Keystone Kops–like chase with enemies becoming partners and friends turning on each other. The cook, trying to support his university-enrolled son, needs the money for tuition and his future dreams. The IOU is from his ex-wife’s new husband, who cuckolded him and promised to pay in settlement. Enter the real estate tycoon Yan Ge. Yan has video of a government official taking bribes and whoring during his nights in the city. That may be the ticket to building back the fortune he lost through bad investments directed by the official. The USB drive containing the video was copied by Yan’s wife for her own shady purposes and is hidden in her purse, which is stolen from their home by the same thief who stole Liu’s pack. He drops it while fleeing Yan's house, and Liu finds it, not suspecting the treasure he's picked up. Suddenly everyone is looking for the purse, offering increasingly large amounts of money for it, and in the ensuing pandemonium, we find that most everyone in this Chinese version of urban capitalism is a crook; the humble cook the most wily of them all. The author uses this social commentary to craft a dark comedy out of the angst of survival. There are no real friends here, no heroes, just everyone on the hustle.
Liu's fiction is a romp through modern Beijing that pits migrant workers from the provinces against billionaires and officials, making a wry statement about modern China and a thoroughly entertaining book.