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A month away from him 18th birthday a Beijing orphan learns someone wants to adopt him, even though his papers say he has no hands. Leaving behind his older twin brother, he travels on the train to his new parents all in the hopes of obtaining a name and a family. Instead he finds two fox spirits and a construction site full of ghosts and some kind of plot that he’s now at the center of. Add in a mysterious Bureau for Eternal Prosperity, a jealous bureaucrat and the wronged Minister of Fate and he finds himself maneuvering through a whole soup of problems.
No blurb can really do this book justice. If I could give it more than 5 stars I would! I would read it again too, there aren’t many books I can say that about…
First, I really loved Jimo! He felt totally and unequivocally Chinese. It radiated in every interaction, twined through the plot and spoke off the page. I loved how being an orphan totally informed every decision he made and the motivations behind why. I loved how he’d talk about lying and learning to deceive, its a Chinese aspect that wove into Jimo so naturally. This was character building at its best! He was at the center of every interaction. Yes, most writers try to do this with their plot and many times it comes off contrived but Jimo really was at the heart of what was going on. He was needed and essential in a way writers could really learn from. I loved how each and every plot point became complicated in such real ways. Jimo just walked off the page for me. I was totally rooting for him to succeed in each and every endeavor.
If you love culture then this is the book for you! It is as totally and unequivocally Chinese as Jimo. I love how I never forgot that the setting was in Dongxi and Beijing, China. I totally thought this was translated from a Chinese written story because it felt so real and accurate to Chinese culture and mythology. I myself know a lot about Asian culture and to feel such authenticity was incredible. It bled through every detail. From the rituals and manners to the fox spirits and ghosts to the emissaries from Heaven to the milk name and needing an adult name! Everything. I loved all the illusions and tricks and tests.
It’s really well written! Some might call the narrative heavy or hard to follow. It really isn’t but the cultural influences are really obvious and since they aren’t familiar to most Americans may take getting used to, the same can be said of the narrative. If you persist you quickly become used to the way Jimo talks and it becomes easy to follow. Another thing that effects this is that there are so many puzzles and tricks, etc. Since we are following Jimo, like him we are trying to work out exactly what is happening. We aren’t told but are shown something and then we have to wait while Jimo figures it out. It’s quite complex but the author does an excellent job following up with each and every interaction and having Jimo explain what had been going on. So there are times when you are a little puzzled while you are at the center of the action but all comes to light. I loved though even more than this the way things were described and talked about, like this about Uncle:
“Rumors are the blood that flows through China. The superstitious say his name is how he hides from demons. They say he runs the Bureau for Eternal Prosperity. He leads a thousand men, reporting directly to the Central Committee. What this Bureau does no one can say. For her part, Clerk Tin dealt with him with disapproval on her face, as if she wished she could do without him, but could not.”
I remembered exactly who Uncle was the entire time because of this description which seems to highlight the important bits about him while making it seem it all came from Jimo. And love how details like this make the story believable:
“Though hardly a bureaucrat, the fox who is a mouse has an instinct for this sort of thing. He has led us to a shelf of papers smudged at the edges by years of obsessive fingers. The shelf is devoted to Uncle and his Bureau.”
The plot though was really masterful, something is always happening even when you don’t realize it is, the twists are not twists for twists sake but real changes in perspective or revealed tricks or illusions. I loved the part history played in the story and how we got the same back history twice but that it didn’t feel repetitive for a moment and I never grew bored. Loved the supernatural aspect to the story as well, from the fox spirits and their illusions to the ghosts and the calling of the Minister of Fate. We even got a little bit about how the government works as well as a bit of modern technology of which Jimo excelled.
The ending was so good… I won’t ruin a moment of it by referring to a single bit of it but I loved it! So satisfying, tied up all sorts of loose ends you didn’t even realize where loose! I ended up feeling about Mr. and Mrs. Vulpin the same way that Jimo did, they were so unique as parents… This ending is so balanced, its the kind of balance all stories are looking for between a happy ending but also based on the reality that happiness doesn’t mean everything is perfect or we get everything we want.
BOTTOM LINE: A Chinese boy’s journey to finding his name and family.
Thanks to NetGalley and Curiosity Quills Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.