Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Review: Rabbit in the Moon by Deborah & Joel Shlian

How Ironic, he thought sadly. As an old man, he finally realized change was essential to launch China into the twentieth-first century. He looked at Chi-Wen, appreciating his fear, wondering how to make him understand that without the cycle of ages, change would never occur.
[pg 103]

Rabbit in the Moon by Deborah & Joel Shlian
Oceanview, 2008
Crime Fiction (S/T); 356 pgs

In May of 1949, China was on the brink of monumental change. Engulfed in civil and international war, Communist leader Mao Zedong brought with him the promise of change and hope while at the same time creating a sense of unease. Dr. Ni-Fu Cheng was as uneasy as the rest of them, unsure of what the future would hold. He sent his only child to the United States to live with an aunt, hoping to protect her until it would be safe for her to return.

Only that time never came. Dr. Ni-Fu’s daughter would never return to China. She settled and married, having a daughter of her own, Lili Quan. Su-Wei tried to raise her daughter in the Chinese tradition, but Lili rebelled, refusing to learn Chinese and rejecting her Chinese roots. She was American and that was all she wanted to be. Upon her death bed, Lili’s mother asked her daughter to return home to China. Caught up in grief and guilt at not being the daughter her mother wanted her to be, Lili decided to make the trip.

Su-Wei was not the only one who wanted her daughter to travel to China. Several forces were working to try and persuade the young daughter to make the trip. She was to be a pawn in an ongoing power struggle for an elixir that promised longer life. Powerful people in China feared the tide was changing as the young people began to revolt, protesting peacefully, and demanding change. Greed and the desire to maintain their power spurred them on. There were others as well whose greed was so great that they would stop at nothing to get their hands on the secret recipe.

The one person who held that secret had kept it close to his vest for over forty years. Believed to be dead by his family, imprisoned in a hospital and forced to continue his research, Dr. Ni-Fu continued to hold out despite all efforts to make him give up what he knew. Bringing his granddaughter to China was the last resort.

Deborah and Joel Shlian could not have found a more fitting time period in which to set their novel. Set in the seven weeks leading up to the tragic events that would take place in Tiananmen Square in June of 1989, as the students began to organize and question, demanding answers and desiring change. The past was colliding with the present and the promise of the future. The Chinese government became desperate to hold onto the past and onto their power. They did not care who they stepped on in the process, or how many innocent lives they destroyed. This tied in nicely with the story of Rabbit in the Moon and the search for the secret of long life and the continuing struggle between the old and the new.

Just as the authors write of the ugly history of the People’s Republic of China, of the Cultural Revolution, the class differences, and the heavy hand of the government, they also paint a beautiful picture of the people themselves, the culture and the land. China is as vast as it is diverse and that comes across well in this novel.

On a more basic level, Rabbit in the Moon is a story of self-discovery. Lili has fought being Chinese all her life. Her visit to China forces her to take a look at a side of her she most wanted to suppress. Not only does she learn more about herself, but she also discovers that China is not the backwards place that she thought it to be. There is value in the lessons she can learn from the doctors and people there.

The characters in the novel are complex and well developed. Lili has a strong sense of justice and her independent spirit carries her through a number of difficult situations. There is also a naivety and vulnerability to her that softens the rough edges of her personality. Her grandfather, Dr. Ni-Fu, is as wise as he is charming. Chi-Wen, Dr. Ni-Fu’s assistant is perhaps one of the more complex of the characters. He is a product of the Cultural Revolution who has had to compromise his own beliefs to protect his remaining family. There is David Kim who lives in his father’s shadow, wanting to prove his worth and yet his own vices may well be his downfall if he is not more careful. These are just four of the interesting characters to be found in Rabbit in the Moon.

The novel offers a variety of perspectives as the story unfolds, and so while Lili remains in ignorance of the danger she is in, the reader knows it well. This increases the intensity of the events as they unfold, building the suspense and anticipation for what is to come.

All of this is wrapped up in a thrilling novel that pits a corrupt government, the mob and other bad guys who are willing to kill for the elixir of life against a young doctor and her elderly grandfather. The danger is great, the suspense is nonstop and even the reader will not know who to trust. Rabbit in the Moon is an entertaining novel that will leave the reader breathless at times and always wanting to know what will happen next. Originally published at Front Street Reviews.

Rating: Rating: * (Very Good)

You can learn more about the authors and their work on their website.


  1. This sounds fascinating. I just put it on my wishlist. Thanks for the review!

  2. Love the cover of the book that features oriental font. Thanks for the great review, Wendy! I like thrilling stuff that leaves me breathless so this one fits into my wish list!

  3. I've recently read a few books that had a lot of Chinese culture in them but I've never read anything like this! Sounds really interesting and I'm glad you liked it so much!

  4. Hi Wendy! I wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Super Commenter Award. You can check it out here:

  5. Thanks for the great review, Wendy! This one sounds great! Love the cover too... will have to look out for it. :)

  6. This does sound fascinating. I don't think I've read any novels set in this particular time period so I will have to keep my eyes open for this one!

  7. Wow--thanks for the great review! The East has been on my radar recently--especially since the Olympics, so I've been looking for more books from/set in China. I'll put this one on the list!

  8. By the way, left you a little something here

    And...glad you changed the comment format back. Not sure how it affects you, but it's much easier to see follow up comments this way. :)

  9. Florinda - I really enjoyed it. I had feeling about this one when I first heard about it and it definitely lived up to my expectations.

    Alice - It's a great cover, isn't it? It's much better in person too. :-)

    Jen - I have read a couple of books set in the time of the Cultural Revolution, but not about the more recent incident at Tiananmen Square.

    April - Thank you so much!

    Melody - If you do read it, I hope you will enjoy it!

    Iliana - I don't recall having read anything from this time period either. The weaving of the main plot thread with the historical events was very well done, I thought.

    Trish - It did seem a fitting to read a book set in China with the Olympics being held there this summer. :-)

    Thank you for the award!

  10. This sounds like a really interesting novel. I really enjoyed Wild Seans which was my first read set in China and am interested to learn more. Thanks I hadn't heard of this one.

  11. Great review! I've added this to my TBR list. It sounds very interesting.

    --Diary of an Eccentric

  12. Rhinoa - I will have to look for Wild Seans. I haven't read too many books set in China (other than Amy Tan books).

    Anna - Thank you! I do hope you enjoy this one if you get the chance to read it.


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