cover image The Emperor of Shoes

The Emperor of Shoes

Spencer Wise. Hanover Square, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-335-14590-1

In Wise’s dynamic debut, the American heir to a shoe manufacturing company comes of age in southern China and has a crisis of conscience among factory workers fighting for their rights. Alex Cohen is in China to learn the ropes of his father’s shoe company. While there, he meets and falls for Ivy, a member of an activist group hoping to start a union among the workers. Alex wants to support her cause, as he knows that workers are being exploited at the factory. But his father is pressuring him to fall in line and step into his new management role. Then a government official asks Alex to bring him the names of the union organizers, and Alex finds himself at a crossroads. When an opportunity comes for him to start fresh with a company that treats its workers with dignity and generosity, will he take it or will he bow to the pressure to maintain the status quo? Wise’s well-paced novel moves inexorably forward with functional but never brilliant prose. While Wise resists simplifying the story by contrasting the life experiences of Alex and Ivy, readers will be more interested in Ivy and wish more time had been dedicated to her version of events. Wise, who has worked in his own family’s shoe factory in southern China, skillfully depicts the interdependent yet strained relationship between Chinese factory workers and foreign capital in this revealing story. (June)