American Iraq War veteran Ellie Cooper is down and out in Beijing when a chance encounter with a Uighura member of a Chinese Muslim minority at the home of her sort-of boyfriend Lao Zhang turns her life upside down. Lao Zhang disappears, and suddenly multiple security organizations are hounding her for information. They say the Uighur is a terrorist. Ellie doesn't know whats going on, but she must decide whom to trust among the artists, dealers, collectors, and operatives claiming to be on her side - in particular, a mysterious organization operating within a popular online role-playing game. As she tries to elude her pursuers, shes haunted by memories of Iraq. Is what she did and saw there at the root of the mess she's in now?
©2010 Lisa Brackmann (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
"[T]he book's exotic setting and tough heroine will definitely appeal to fans of John Burdett and Stieg Larsson." (Publishers Weekly)
“Lisa Brackmann’s novel gets off to a fast start and never lets up…Ellie is a perfect spunky heroine…Be prepared for a wild ride." (The New York Times Book Review)
“Lisa Brackmann’s timely and hip debut novel is a thriller with a plucky heroine, locales actual and virtual, and grounding in the Abu Ghraib scandal… Brackmann can write.” (Boston Globe)
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.
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!
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.
Tell us about yourself!
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...
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
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.
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.
Yes. It was so complex...so much going on...and it was told in first person so there was so much unknown at the time it was happening and being reported. It would be a good idea to read it again.
Yes, it did...by telling it in first person...so many details need to be filled it.
Scenes of the Chinese internet cafes, the "games" and her figuring out how this all fit together with the intrigue.
Yes. It actually took a few sittings but it was hard to break from reading.
Very interesting book....Good narration.
I finished the book but I wouldn't have been upset if I hadn't. This is not a Chinese-American version of "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," as some say. Nothing like it.
The descriptions of life in China were good but the mystery itself simply wasn't. The backstory with the Christian husband and Christian mother didn't go anywhere. The narrator's training as a soldier in the Middle East never amounted to anything — she might as well have been a Starbucks barista. She was just pulled from scene to scene, never really trying to make anything happen, so it was hard to root for her or feel scared for her.
The description of the book intrigued me, but if I'd known how non-involving the story was, I wouldn't have gotten it.
Moves around, but goes nowhere, and the ending leaves you wondering why it was written at all. The protagonist is whiney and self-loathing. I've lived in China for 16 years, and while there are some interesting tidbits in here for people who've never been to the country, from the perspective of a person who understands the country, it's weak and made me want to yawn - a lot. It wasn't until I finished the novel that I figured out what it was that made me think it was fatally flawed, and then it just hit me. While the author may have spent enough time in China to have the insight and ability to get around like the protagonist does - the problem is, the protagonist doesn't have time to understand China sufficiently to go through the experiences she goes through. She talks and acts like an "old hand", but if you work through the timeline, she could have only spent at most, two years in China before she has these experiences. Furthermore, she indicates when she first got there she really didn't get out much. There's absolutely no way someone with such little time on the ground in a place like Beijing, could or would have the sort of experiences and the insight the character has. It's ludicrous, frankly. As a writer, i'd say, she's, well, "meh." There are a few well-turned phrases, and the structuring is good, but plot's lousy and there are far too many cliches. Plus, too many phrases/words are repeated. "knots" of people, "seamed" faces, etc. But, the biggest tragedy was the narration. I've never, ever heard any Chinese people speak English the way the reader presented. I laughed every time she tried to imitate a Chinese person - which was about 25% of the book. And the place names and Chinese words were a joke. One last pet peeve: The word is "concrete" not "cement". Cement is a constituent of concrete. You wouldn't say, I ate a "flour" when you mean you ate bread. Ergo, the sidewalk is concrete, not cement.
Say something about yourself!
The tempo. Many storylines and not enough depth.
I didnt like the mood and didnt enjoy the story.
Jon, felt his voice. Was very well played.
If it was made a series Tracy Ulman could play Ellie
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