The Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise #BookReview #BlogTour

From an exciting new voice in literary fiction, a transfixing story about an expatriate in southern
China and his burgeoning relationship with a seamstress intent on inspiring dramatic political
Alex Cohen, a twenty-six-year-old Jewish Bostonian, is living in southern China, where his father runs their family-owned shoe factory. Alex reluctantly assumes the helm of the company, but as he explores the plant's vast floors and assembly lines, he comes to a grim realization: employees are exploited, regulatory systems are corrupt and Alex's own father is engaging in bribes to protect the bottom line.
When Alex meets a seamstress named Ivy, his sympathies begin to shift. She is an embedded organizer of a pro-democratic Chinese party, secretly sowing dissonance among her fellow labourers.
Will Alex remain loyal to his father and his heritage? Or will the sparks of revolution ignite?
Deftly plotted and vibrantly drawn, The Emperor of Shoes is a timely meditation on idealism, ambition, father-son rivalry and cultural revolution, set against a vivid backdrop of social and technological change.

I'm delighted to be hosting the blog tour for The Emperor of Shoes today. Many thanks to the author, Katherine Sunderland from No Exit Press and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.
Alex Cohen is heir to his father's shoe factory in southern China but after he signs an agreement to take over the family business he begins to realise the factory workers are exploited and bullied; through his relationship with one of the factory's seamstresses, Ivy he learns about Ruxi, another factory worker who longs to return home but in order to work in the factory she had to obtain a loan from her employers and until she has repaid them the owners hold her hukou - her identity papers -  which means she can't leave and is living illegally in the city. As he grows closer to Ivy, he learns more about the extent of the corruption and bribery the factory and therefore his father, accept and are actively involved in. He agrees somewhat reluctantly to listen to the views of the pro-democratic party Ivy is secretly involved with. His loyalties becomes torn between his family's heritage and his love for Ivy and are further complicated when a government official informs him he is aware of radical organisers within the factory and asks Alex to supply a list of names.
As Alex considers his own identity - he is a Jewish American of Russian descent now living in China -  he reflects on the irony of his father persecuting and exploiting the Chinese workers despite the long history of abuse and oppression suffered by Jewish people. Through Ivy he learns something of the cultural traditions and beliefs of the Chinese people and as he relates them to similar Jewish beliefs, he finally realises that he needs to choose between his father's legacy and the rights of the workers. He must face up to his own hypocrisy and decide if he is prepared to take a stand but after hearing Ivy's powerful and poignant account of her experiences at the Tiananmen Square protests, he is sharply aware of the dangerous situation they are both heading into.
Spencer Wise explores the inevitable discord between traditional beliefs and more modern ideals, whether between father and son or on a wider, societal level; though many Chinese workers are ready for change, the potential for violent reprisals is an ever present possibility. However, in the years since Tiananmen, China has become more open and needs Western investment and trade. With the globalisation of technology, Alex and Ivy hope the time is ripe for a new social revolution with self-determination driving the change. As Ivy says, 'Every tree must know what it is.'
The Emperor of Shoes is a beautifully written, meditative novel which considers familial and cultural belonging at a time when identity is arguably more discussed and debated than ever before. This is a timely, insightful and persuasive novel with the vibrant descriptions of China giving it a strong sense of place. I struggled a little to fully connect with the characters but in a novel where they are struggling to know themselves who they are, this isn't perhaps surprising or a criticism. Spencer Wise's nuanced debut marks him as a author to watch out for. Recommended.

The Emperor of Shoes will be published by No Exit Press on 26th July and can be pre-ordered or purchased here. Don't miss the other stops on the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
Spencer Wise was born in Boston in 1977. He holds a BA from Tuft’s University, an MA in fiction from The University of Texas, where he was a James Michener Fellow, and a PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University

Wise is currently a Visiting Lecturer at Florida State University in Tallahassee, where he is at work on his second novel, Holderness.
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