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by Deborah and Joel Shlian
Oceanview, June 2008
357 pages
ISBN: 1933515147

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

With recent events in China - the devastating earthquake, the Olympic torch protests against China’s policy in Tibet, and the ongoing suppression of religious activities - together with the upcoming coverage of the country as it hosts the Olympics in the summer of 2008, China has once again re-engaged the interest of the West. News coverage around the world is sure to continue to develop in intensity, and a spate of books about China is likely to follow.

Few events in China are better known to Westerners than the student democracy movement, which culminated in the harsh crackdown at Tiananmen Square. This provides the perfect setting for RABBIT IN THE MOON, a new thriller from authors Deborah and Joel Shlian. The events of that crisis also provide a perfect blend of chaos and upheaval in which escapes and near misses can seem plausible, always a challenge with a story set within so carefully controlled a society.

RABBIT IN THE MOON centers on the family history of Lili Quan, the only child of an immigrant mother, who raises her daughter in San Francisco. Lili is a medical resident when we meet her, working in a Los Angeles hospital. Throughout her childhood, Lili has never felt anything but American, but her sense of identity will be tested when she goes to China to undertake a stint as a medical researcher at an institute in Xi’an. What Lili cannot know is that many forces are conspiring to bring her there, including a rogue element of the CIA and the Communist Chinese government. Each seeks to use her as a tool to extract a valuable secret from her grandfather, Dr. Ni-Fu Cheng, who has been conducting research on longevity.

Like any good thriller, this story has a good balance of character development and action. The trickiest part for any authors writing about China, however, is making the daring escapes and duplicitous actions credible. The Shlians do a good job of introducing their readers to the stark differences between the Chinese and American societies and ways of thinking. Where they get into dicier territory is with the thriller elements of the plot; they do the best they can, but what goes on doesn’t always feel completely believable (although one could argue that many best-selling thrillers require a suspension of belief at some point in their stories).

If the reader can overlook some of the plot devices, what remains is well worth spending time reading. The authors’ insights into Chinese life, medical developments in the field of geriatrics, the outsider viewpoint of immigrants, traditional Chinese medicine, the sacrifices required inside a closed society, and many more topics are sure to keep readers engaged with this book. RABBIT IN THE MOON is a fascinating novel, and it makes for compelling reading for anyone with an interest in a country that is sure to be increasingly front and center in global attention of the near future.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, January 2008

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