From Publishers Weekly
No one quite understands anyone else in Row's Hong Kong, a city suffused by a pervasive sense of alienation. In the seven stories of this debut collection, Row's protagonists—American expats and locals alike—flail about, either helplessly or harmfully, as blind as Alice in the first story, "The Secrets of Bats," who wanders around in a blindfold, trying to gain a bat's sense of orientation. The narrator of the title story, a wealthy man from Hong Kong, falls in love with a Chinese woman named Lin. Political strictures make their situation difficult, but cultural differences ultimately divide them. The narrator (whose family has lived in Hong Kong for five generations) is optimistic and resourceful; Lin (crushed all her life by the Chinese system) cannot abandon her pessimism. In "For You," the marriage of an American couple disintegrates after they move to Hong Kong, and the husband, Lewis, temporarily joins a Buddhist monastery—just one example of the way personal breakdowns tend to follow political displacement in Row's stories. At the monastery, Lewis is told: "Mistakes are your mirror.... They reflect your mind. Don't try to slip away from them." In sharp, lucid prose, Row molds a landscape of human error and uncertainty, territory well-aligned with the eerie topography of his space-age city.
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Debuting author Row makes new the archetypal theme of a stranger in a strange land in his seven tales of outsiders struggling to decode the mysteries of Hong Kong. In crystalline prose, Whiting Award winner Row animates intriguing and unpredictable characters and dramatizes subtle yet emblematic conflicts as he traces the vast cultural divides between America and Hong Kong, and cosmopolitan Hong Kong and locked-down mainland China. A young American man teaching English in a Chinese girls' school is baffled and seduced by a 16-year-old's potentially dangerous obsession with echolocation in the exquisite "The Secrets of Bats." In "The American Girl," a blind Chinese masseur puts up with the bossy insensitivity of an American graduate student who forces him to recall the brutal violence his family faced during the Cultural Revolution. In the title story, a well-off Hong Kong man becomes involved with a woman from Shenzhen whose life is cruelly proscribed. As Row choreographs thorny negotiations between naive newcomers and guarded insiders, he neatly and devastatingly contrasts dueling visions of faith, art, love, and freedom. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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