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Prague, Czech Republic
Uluru, Australia
  • Location: Beijing, Guangdong

The Emperor of Shoes

The Emperor of Shoes

Why a Booktrail?

1990s: A timely meditation on idealism, ambition, father-son rivalry and cultural revolution, set against a vivid backdrop of social and technological change.

  • ISBN: 978-0857302199
  • Genre: Fiction

What you need to know before your trail

Alex Cohen, a twenty-six-year-old Jewish Bostonian, is living in southern China, where his father runs their family-owned shoe factory. Alex reluctantly assumes the helm of the company, but as he explores the plant’s vast floors and assembly lines, he comes to a grim realisation: employees are exploited, regulatory systems are corrupt and Alex’s own father is engaging in bribes to protect the bottom line. When Alex meets a seamstress named Ivy, his sympathies begin to shift. She is an embedded organiser of a pro-democratic Chinese party, secretly sowing dissonance among her fellow labourers. Will Alex remain loyal to his father and his heritage? Or will the sparks of revolution ignite?

Travel Guide


The factory represents old China, the China his father has sweat blood over, bribed officials for and more. Life for these people is good and his son, used to a high standard of living and hotel accommodation is set to take this exact same road.

But there’s the other China, the emerging China – that of Ivy and her ideals, her life stitching in the factory and who comes to the attention of Alex. He is the one with compassion and through his interaction with her, he can see another path in life, a new way of doing things. Life in the factory and in the places where the workers live is one hard slog, harsh conditions and strict guidelines. The father- son relationship is tough to read about – tradition versus progress – and the fact that the son is rather reluctant to take over the factory and its methods comes across very strongly.

Watch out for the scene where Alex is in the boardroom and Ivy comes in to model one of the shoes. Powerful stuff in images with the words just strengthening what you see.

There are lots of threads in this story  – a Jewish one, a Chinese one and a justice one to name but three. A novel about awareness, business practices, right and wrong, a changing world, and the human conscience.

China is a changing country and this novel portrays the many threads of that from the emancipation of women and feet binding to the idea of marches and what they can achieve. The foot binding imagery and the fact that this story focuses on a shoe factory is strong and very symbolic. Emancipation….of women, of feet, of bad and illegal business practices…in one powerful novel.

Emperors Shoes

Booktrailer Review

Susan: @thebooktrailer

What a fascinatingly complex novel. I admit to not being able to write this review straight after the book which is often what I try to do. There were so many questions in my head after I’d finished it. Even now I think it’s going to stay with me and grow even more, such is the sharpness and insight in this novel.

It’s quite remarkable to get this much symbolism, imagery, awareness, social commenter and  a true sense of the human spirit in a debut novel. It’s very powerful and  I had to read it slow to take it all in.

Words hit you in this novel, a novel about the changing China, new and emerging business practises, the journey from the old ways to the new, from the, in some cases, illegal practices to the freedom of having a conscience.

Ivy and Alex are two of the strongest and most symbolic characters I’ve read about in a long while and I feel this could be even more powerful that any history book. Gritty and raw. But oh so powerful.

Booktrail Boarding Pass:  The Emperor of Shoes

Destination : Beijing, Guangdong  Author/Guide: Spencer Wise  Departure Time: 1990s

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