I had no idea what to expect from this book; I was just intrigued by the title and the cover and the synopsis. I was very pleasantly surprised to get a fast-moving, well-written tale with an ex-pat's view of contemporary China.
The first-person narrator, Ellie Cooper, is a young former US Army medic hanging out in China on a semi-expired visa, still shell-shocked by the destruction of her marriage and her ongoing issues with PTSD relating to some really bad things that happened in Iraq. She married a fellow soldier she met in Iraq, who brought her to China when he left the service and became a "contractor" for a private security firm, and like most such ill-thought military marriages, things quickly fell apart. Her estranged husband is now living a "God-centered life" with the Chinese girl he hooked up with, and between badgering Ellie to sign the divorce papers, urges her to "accept Jesus into her heart," which is a nice bit of bitter humor that runs throughout the book, as Ellie also keeps receiving Jesus-y emails from her mother back home.
While Ellie is trying to pick herself up and put herself back together, she has been hanging out with an eclectic bunch of Chinese artists and MMORPG addicts. One day she visits her artist friend Lao Zhang, and finds a Uighur -- a Muslim minority ethnic group in China -- visiting. Lao Zhang disappears, the Uighur disappears, and the rest of the book becomes paranoia fuel for poor Ellie, as she has absolutely no idea what any of these people were up to, if anything, but both Chinese and American agents are after them and thinks she does know something. All of her friends become suspect, she is sent on a bizarre quest given to her inside her friend's online game which she thinks is meant to help him in the real world, and meanwhile her not-quite-ex-husband is involved in the whole thing as well. Right up until the end, you are no more sure than Ellie is who the bad guys and who the good guys are or WTF is going on.
The story itself is fast-paced and interesting, but nothing hugely revelatory happens at the end. The appeal of this book is the view of China, the accuracy of which I cannot attest to, but it reads like a thoroughly modern and believable tour through the kinda-communist semi-capitalist military-corporate-industrial complex that is today's PRC, a place that is trying to put a happy shine on what's still very much a corrupt police state, but one where you can find KFC, McDonald's, or Starbucks (or a Chinese knockoff thereof) on any street corner in Beijing. Ellie is only semi-acclimated, so she's still an alien in a place she knows she doesn't belong.
Ellie's voice is what made me enjoy this book so much. She's probably one of the most compelling and believable characters I've read in a contemporary novel in quite a while. She's not tough or bad-ass- she's in over her head, she just wants a little peace and safety, but she keeps getting walloped, emotionally and physically, and she has no choice but to "suck it up and drive on," as we used to say in the Army. She joined the Army as a kid looking to make some money for college and found herself dropped into the deep end, and now she's fallen into another pit in China. She's wracked with guilt, anger, and physical and mental disabilities, but as her life keeps taking left turns, she tries to do the right thing even while scorning her own ability to figure out what that is.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable novel. A combination of a mystery, war story, and ex-pat adventure/thriller, this doesn't make any lists of great literature or super-memorable reads for me, but I still recommend it without reservation, and if the author turned it into a series with Ellie as a recurring character, I would certainly be on board.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
I am so surprised that I had not heard of this book before I ran out of credits and bought one of the $4.95 specials. I can't believe there hasn't been more buzz about this book. This is a very original and well written story - a young, Iraqi war veteran living in Beijing finds herself a subject of interest by several security organizations. The characters are very well developed, the subtext of the Iraq war is interesting and believable, and the time spent traveling around China and dropping in on Chinese internet/game parlors is engaging. The main character, Ellie Cooper, has a very fresh and interesting perspective on life, the war, and China. Although she has a foul mouth, I never thought it was over the top - and certainly not a reason to pan this book. The book is fast paced and never dull. I don't understand other reviews that say nothing happens in this book. Even more puzzled by the low ratings.
The narration is outstanding. I have never listened to Sallows before. Her voices are excellent. Not only does she do male and female voices very well, she does very convincing Chinese characters.
You won't be disappointed by this book - especially if you buy it on special for $4.95!
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Lisa Brackmann can clearly write and just as clearly has a lot of ideas. Setting novels in modern China from a western perspective is another plus. However this is one of those novels where sometimes "the message" dominates the plot. I'd have liked a little more action, a little more suspense, a little more romance and a little less of the realities of detention and torture. . Tracy Sallows read this very well getting right in character.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
The narration was absolutely first class. It kept me going. It really did. But if I think of this novel as a painting, then I admire it for its detail and the subtle brushstrokes employed. It immerses you in China. But when I stand back and consider the subject, I sort of ask "why"? Maybe it is just me. So I can only really half recommend this to others. Worth a try for some, perhaps...
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Rock Paper Tiger is a bit of a mashup between a thriller, a story of a young woman finding herself while abroad, and a commentary on modern China. In it, a former Army medic named Ellie, still haunted by her experiences in Iraq, is adrift in Beijing, distanced from the soon-to-be-ex-husband who brought her there. She's sort of involved with a Chinese artist whose works might be somewhat political, who happens to know a man who's a member of China's Muslim minority. Suddenly, the artist goes underground, and Ellie finds herself a person of interest to several different parties, including some menacing men from a US security firm, a mysterious community of online gamers, and possibly the Chinese authorities.
The main strength of the book, I thought, was the convincing voice of its protagonist. Ellie's earnest viewpoint and reflections seem believable for a working class female former soldier with a Jesus-loving mom back in Arizona and a few regrettable choices in her own life, and I enjoyed getting to know her as a character. She's not a badass, nor is she a pushover. I also thought the author presented a messily authentic picture of China as a 21st century boomtown, a whirlwind of concrete, ancient shrines, karoake bars, strip malls, poverty, new money, kitsch, police state, artist collectives, and Starbucks. I found the Chinese characters convincingly Chinese in their attitudes (though, of course, I'm not an expert).
That said, the novel's main plotline is a disappointment. There’s lots of running around, but the nature of the larger drama Ellie gets involved in and its players remains ill-defined, fizzling the plot’s initial energy. The subplot concerning Ellie's experiences in Iraq (told through flashback) is more gripping, though, and shows that Brackmann can do a taut scene when she wants to.
In my overall opinion, Rock Paper Tiger is a book that aspires to more than it quite delivers. But, I enjoyed the trip enough that it was worth the 5$ I spent at an audible sale. In my opinion, the audio narrator does a good job personifying Ellie, though the accents seem hit-or-miss on some of the other characters.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Well developed characters, interesting cultural clashes, engaging plot... but the language was distracting. I'd love to know how many times the author used the "f-word" ... I'm not a prude. Half as many would have sufficed for character development. I almost quit listening because I felt I was being cussed out for the first 90 minutes.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful