The Emperor of Shoes
by Spencer Wise
Pub Date 05 Jun 2018
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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 laborers. 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.
“Spencer Wise’s The Emperor of Shoes is the most complex, nuanced, character-rich first novels I have ever read. It is utterly original in portraying a twenty-first century Jewish diaspora, with one foot in homeland America and one foot in Asia creating consumer products, and, for Wise’s protagonist, with an accompanying empathy for China’s grassroots aspirations. Wise comes to us fully-flighted as a master stylist and a compelling storyteller.”—Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
“Fresh and innovative, Spencer Wise's The Emperor of Shoes is the latest addition to the tradition of young-man fiction that starts with Bellow and Roth…I’ve taught for more than forty years; this is the best first novel I’ve ever read.”— David Kirby, National Book Award nominated author of The House on Boulevard Street
"Wise has written a funny, illuminating page turner of a novel about an American father and son and a shoe factory in China. Emperor of Shoes is heartbreakingly personal, timely and political, written with plenty of Yiddish and humor. 'Made in China' the label says, but few of us have any idea what that means. Through unforgettable characters and dire circumstances, unforgettable characters and dire circumstances, Wise shows us factory life and politics, ultimately pointing us in the direction of the possibility for a better future."—Bethany Ball, author of What to Do About the Solomons