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.