After her twin's death, a solitary young woman leaves Rome for Shanghai, the city where her brother Ruben had long dreamed of opening a restaurant. Teaching Italian to Chinese students, she meets a mysterious girl named Xu, who is also running from a turbulent past: a violent father, an absent mother, and an extended family who wishes she'd been a boy.
Readers will be fascinated by the novel’s scenery, psychological acuity, and even of Xu’s room, filled with rotting food that she needs around. Queerness, grief, isolation, dependence, and love merge in this novel of geographically-based healing and descent.
While some readers may find the novel repetitious and repellent, it accurately depicts the state of mind of its bereaved heroine, as the city and her relationship with Xu mirror her descent into a deep depression and her gradual climb back into a version of her former life.
Sensuous and biting ... The author’s wearying reliance on vulgarity for the sake of edginess and pervading sense of dire emptiness don’t help distinguish it from current erotic obsession novels. Still, it’s worth indulging in this visceral story about a woman’s difficulty with finding satisfaction, sexual and otherwise