Alex Cohen is a 26-year-old from Boston who lives in China. His father, Fedor, runs their shoe-making business with an iron first; profit is everything and Fedor isn’t about to change a thing. Until Alex gets involved with a Chinese seamstress named Ivy—at the same time his father names him heir to the company and places him in charge—at least in name.
Now Alex finds out the truths kept hidden by his father: the obsession with productivity—workers’ times are assessed and anyone wasting even 8 minutes a week is a problem—as well as the cruel conditions the workers live in—hot water only at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., no safety measures in place to protect the workers. And Ivy is determined to start a movement for change.
Alex learns a lot from Ivy, but is the change she seeks really based on truth? The more Alex discovers, the more he wonders, until ideas meet action in a showdown at the shoe factory.
This is not a fast-paced novel. Instead, it moves at a slow, languorous pace, taking time to explore the nuances of culture as it exposes the ugliness behind business and commerce in China. Alex becomes a completely different person through the course of the book, and his relationship with his father is at the core of that. A book to sip and savor, taking in all the flavors of the culture it’s set in.
Spencer Wise was born and raised in Massachusetts but now lives in Florida. The Emperor of Shoes is his new novel.
(Galley provided by Harlequin/Hanover Square Press in exchange for an honest review.)