Adam Najberg’s Chongqing Burning

I wanted to give a brief shout-out to a book I just finished and highly recommend.

Chongqing Burning, a dark, intense novel about the meteoric rise and sudden collapse of Bo Xilai and his wife is a true page-turner. (The characters are renamed, but there’s no doubting who they are.) The main character, the chain-smoking, heavy-drinking David Northerly, is an old-school journalist feeling the pressures of an industry under siege. The book makes you appreciate what great journalism really is in an age of bloggers and “citizen journalists” armed only with a keyboard. With his two decades-plus of reporting, Northerly is hardened and relentless. As he pursues the story of the murder of an American businessman at the hands of Bo Xilai’s wife and her henchmen, he is harassed, thrown in a secret jail cell, gets beaten and worse. The book offers an engrossing mystery as Northerly uncovers who shot the American and why, but Adam Najberg’s best achievement may be his capturing how corruption works in China and how it lubricates the entire government apparatus. He has a deep knowledge of China and how its government operates, and one finishes the book with a better understanding of Chinese politics, and a much greater appreciation of what foreign correspondents there have to go through every day. (Najberg is an editor with the Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong. and has been with the paper for nearly two decades) A delightful read, a finely written thriller that I finished in two nights. Highly recommended. Available as an ebook of Amazon, and it’s for sale at a great price.

The Discussion: One Comment

Plot felt a little threadbare and contrived to me. Plus, the atmosphere of inner Party machinations is all wrong – it’s much more ‘gray’, reactive and fast-paced than the somnolent chessmaster feel that Najberg delivers. Think a fencing duel with dozens of blindfolded participants rather than some silent game of go.

In particular, the “Party Elder” character Najberg creates is patently artificial. China at the top is a lot like the rest of China – it’s unscripted and only slightly less atavistic and myopic. The ouster of Bo was never as cut-and-dried as Najberg makes it seem, and ideology is less of a determinant of factionalism than the overlapping rent-seeking authorities of powerful institutions.

April 12, 2013 @ 11:29 am | Comment

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