The Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise – Review.


About the Book

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 change.

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.

My Review

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. The Emperor of Shoes is a novel that I enjoyed immensely. There is the storyline itself, that of a son of a shoe manufacturer who feels uncomfortable when he realises how bad the conditions are in their factory. There are the problems across China, some of which led to the terrible events that happened in Tiananmen Square. There is the romance between Alex and Ivy where they have to learn and respect each others cultural differences and most of all there is the relationship between Alex and his father. It is this relationship that makes this book so special. Many of their conversations made me smile, especially with his father’s obsessions, but they were also touching because you could see how close they were. Even if they couldn’t.
This is not a quick book to read. There were many moments that had me sat in silence, gazing into space. The empty villages, where everybody of a certain age had left to find work. The cold hearted managers in the factory who showed no compassion to the workers and the horrific conditions in which they worked. The telling of what happened at Tiananmen Square that felt like a first hand account.
It’s a truly wonderful novel that opens your eyes to different cultures but also to the working conditions in certain parts of the world.