“Evocative…The Emperor of Shoes underscores the extent to which the promise of economic opportunity still moves people across great distances on our planet…Wise [has] written a novel of our times…”—New York Times Book Review
*A Library Journal Best Debut of Summer 2018*
From an exciting new voice in literary fiction, a transfixing story about an expatriate in southern China and his burgeoning relationship with a seamstress intent on inspiring dramatic political change
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.
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, Alex finds himself at a crossroads. When an opportunity comes for him to start fresh with a company that would treat its workers with dignity and generosity, but 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.