Set in tumultuous post-WWII Asia, Liu's third novel (after Face and Cloud Mountain) is a sweeping espionage thriller that traces a woman's efforts to find her husband after he disappears into the back country of Communist China in 1949. Joanna Shaw, who runs a rescue agency for Asian prostitutes in New Delhi, offers asylum to a 10-year-old rape victim named Kamla. Shortly afterwards Joanna is notified that her husband, Aidan, a journalist who has been targeted by J. Edgar Hoover for alleged Communist sympathies, has gone missing after a plane crash in Kashmir. Convinced that Aidan is alive, Joanna sets off with her husband's friend, Malcolm Lawrence, and Kamla as their interpreter to find Aidan, but their quest hits a dead end after they discover the body of the female journalist with whom Aidan apparently was traveling. As her prospects of locating Aidan fade, Joanna begins an affair with Malcolm, but soon learns that her new lover had a key role with Aidan in an espionage operation, as a result of which Aidan may have defected to China. Liu tracks the shifting alliances of Aidan, Joanna and Malcolm with surefooted storytelling and solid characterization, and introduces layers of suspense rooted in provocative political secrets. The ending is a crescendo of bittersweet revelations, in which Liu's ability to probe issues of East versus West rises to a new level. Agent, Richard Pine. 4-city author tour; rights sold in Holland, Italy and the U.K. (Feb.)
Forecast:The current president of PEN USA, Liu brings strong literary credentials to a background in Asian politics, a combination that should engender critical interest and solid sales for this impressive novel.