Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lisa Brackmann/ROCK PAPER TIGER


Ellie Cooper is a 26-year-old American Iraq vet with a bum leg and just a shade of PTSD. She also is living basically alone in China, tending bar at an expat dive and spending most of her time eating dumplings and drinking beer with Lao Zhang, a charismatic painter at the heart of an artistic community. Basically, she minds her own business--which is why, when Lao Zhang disappears, she can't understand how she lands herself at the heart of a mysterious investigation into his whereabouts. Suddenly Ellie finds herself on an adventure far more interesting and perhaps even more dangerous than Iraq. As she is chased across China and bullied by an assortment of people--Chinese police, private American protection agents, wealthy Chinese art collectors, her soon-to-be-ex husband, her estranged mother, her own bad dreams, even (and perhaps most dangerously) animated avatars on an online game)--Ellie watches her friends disappear one by one. Not only does she not know who she can trust, she doesn't even know what she's running from. Was the missing Lao Zhang's art so dangerously subversive? Or is there something else entirely going on under her nose?

For enthusiasts of books about China, this is a must-read: Ellie's voice is that of an American living abroad, but she is edgy and unsarcastic, refreshingly without a trace of the condescending travelogue voice we so often expect from foreigner-abroad novels. Brackmann also has a lot to say about the unfortunate confluence of capitalism and political oppression--and her message does not just implicate China. The book is packed with young, creative people, some of whom are fighting for causes, others of whom are just trying to live their lives, but all of whom are at the mercy of the capricious, occasionally violent, and sometimes meaningless whims of the big guys with money.

Although yes, it is packed with adventure, ultimately, Rock Paper Tiger is the story of one girl who is trying to straighten out her life. Brackmann's critique of modern China and the mercilessness of global capitalism is really secondary to the hopeful narrative of a lost young woman who is forced to realize how meaningful a friendship can be, and how she can, in fact, make a difference in the world she's living in.

I'd recommend this especially to readers who seek out books on modern China, and readers who enjoy a little Quiet American-esque post war thriller/espionage.

9 comments:

smallkucing said...

am drooling...i love these type of books

moonrat said...

oo, do you like to read about China? i read a ton about China--let's exchange lists!! tell me stuff you like.

Jane Steen said...

Another book to add to my pile! (Well, this will go on my ever-expanding Library Thing list, same thing in my head.) Thanks for expanding my world.

sue laybourn said...

Great review!
I love this book. It brought back memories of my (long-ago) trips to China - not only visual memories, but smells and sounds too.
I've been recommending RPT to all and sundry. :D

Other Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Silicon Valley Diva said...

I downloaded a sample of Rock Paper Tiger the other night on my iPod. The setting and characters rock--so easy to immerse myself in this world even though I've never been to China. (How I long to go one day.) I love reading historical fiction set in China and now I can add this to my list of modern China books. I've got such a huge backlog but I intend to buy it.

OfficeGirl said...

Although I am not a fan of "China books" I've been hearing good things about this book, which I plan to read soon.

Kristan said...

Well, you sold me on downloading a sample!

Jennifer M. Donahue said...

I just finished reading this book over the weekend. I loved how about midway through I thought I knew what was going on, who was aligned with what factions and then BAM! it all took an unexpected turn and I had to race to figure out what was going on and would happen next. I really love a book that reads literary, but that I can devour all in one sitting. Bravo, Lisa!