Sunday, January 4, 2015

"Whispering Shadows" by Jan Philipp Sendker (Book Review)

I received an Advance Copy of this book through BookBrowse in exchange for an honest review.
"Whispering Shadows" will be on sale April 15, 2014.

“Whispering Shadows” is a novel of modern China, how the legacy of the Cultural Revolution continues to affect those who survived its cruelty, an investigation into the disappearance of an American businessman involved in a joint venture with a Chinese partner, a love story and the long emotional recovery of a father who has lost his young son to leukemia.  Does the story succeed on all levels? For me it does not.  None-the-less this was a good read.

Rather than the burgeoning romance between the protagonist and a local woman, for me the heart of the story is the decades long friendship between expatriate German American Paul Leibovitz, who has lived a life of solitude on Lamma Island since the death of his son, and Zheng, a Chinese police officer in Shenzhen, a Special Economic Zone in Guangdong Province just outside Hong Kong, who may just be the only incorruptible police officer in China.

Sendker’s insights into the political intrigue, corruption, and machinations of local party members and industrial magnates in China also illustrate what few westerners completely understand. It is clear the author has spent a great deal of time learning about Chinese culture and his descriptions of Hong Kong, Lamma Island,  and Shenzhen are those of someone with an intimate personal knowledge of the locales and the people who live there. Sendker also cautions his readers that it is dangerous for a foreigner to make the assumption that he understands the business or political or judicial environment in China. Forced confessions still exist. And the wrong decision in a business deal can get one killed. It happened to somebody we knew in Kunming in 1992.

I had the privilege of living in Hong Kong for three years and felt drawn back into that vibrant world that I learned to love through this book. The themes are compelling: trust, friendship, gratitude, shame, fear, hubris, empathy, truth, and consequences. I rate this book a strong 4 out of 5 stars.

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