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The Foreigner

2.83  ·  Rating Details ·  229 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews

Winner of the Edgar® Award for Best First Novel by an American Author

Set against the Taiwanese criminal underworld, The Foreigner is Francie Lin's audacious debut novel. A noirish tale about family, fraternity, conscience, and the curious gulf between a man's culture and his deepest self

Emerson Chang is a mild mannered bachelor on the cusp of forty, a financial analyst i
Paperback, 309 pages
Published May 27th 2008 by Picador
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Jun 08, 2008 Edward rated it liked it
This is a story of a 40-year old virgin who lives in San Francisco and crosses the Bay Bridge and down I-880 every Friday night to have dinner with his mother. I was thinking, damn this coulda been me. Mother dies, son goes to Taiwan with will in hand searching for his missing younger brother. Turns out bro is a gangster. Some pretty bad writing ensues. I had to give it the biased three stars for the following reason -- there aren't that many people writing about male Taiwanese Americans who spe ...more
Jul 30, 2008 Jennie rated it it was ok
It has been some time since I read a book and cared less about the main character. I finished reading this because I kept waiting for the story to surprise me, or for the main character to get a clue.

Unfortunately, Emerson was one dimensional throughout the entire story. Most main characters are torn, or conflicted about their past. Not this guy, he's a self deluding "paragon of virtue" sitting on his high horse passively judging the rest of the world. Basically, he bored me. Francie Lin couldn
Apr 06, 2010 CarolineFromConcord rated it did not like it
Although the author writes excellent, evocative descriptions of scenes, her characters made no sense to me, the plot was a series of dangling teasers, and there were weird failures to pay attention to detail. (With regard to the latter, after a character has made a big point of bolting the door, several people sashay through it a few minutes later.) The hero is a cypher, a middle-aged Chinese American so devoted to his mother that he carries her ashes in a shoulder bag wherever he goes and finds ...more
Mar 15, 2009 Michael rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
Recommended to Michael by: saw on the Edgar nominees
I did not like this book and fail to see how it was nominated for an Edgar Award for the best first mystery novel.

The hero is manipulated by his mother for years. She arranges dates and discourages his dating non-Chinese women.

He seems to have no backbone and in not an interesting character.

When his mother dies, he goes overseas to find his brother, tell him the bad news about his mother and inform him that his mother left the family motel to the brother.

The brother is a non caring character
Apr 25, 2009 Reid rated it it was ok
What to say? For a first novel, this is fairly accomplished, a complete story without any gaping holes, a certain mastery of language. Am I damning this book with faint praise? I suppose so. In the first 20 pages or so, I really didn't think I would want to continue reading. There were so many cliches and obvious hooks, so many pat plot devices (the loyal son versus the missing son, the overweening mother, the diffidence of the immigrant, the return to the homeland) that my eyes rolled rather fr ...more
May 11, 2009 Jankerr rated it did not like it
Guess my Chinese genre books have been jaded by Any Tan or Pearl Buck. This book was not good. It failed on about every level from one dimensional characters to a bogus plot. Why take almost all the book to tell us they are dealing in human trafficing but pretty much spell it out in the first chapter. Oh brother. The one thing I did like was the descriptions of Taiwain and the relationship to mainland China. The plot, the characters left a lot to be deisred
Jun 24, 2009 Ryan rated it it was ok
Imagine the most incredibly depressing book ever. This would be it.

It's a story of a man whose mother died and he travels back to his homeland of Taiwan to meet up with his brother to settle the will of his mother.

He arrives and find out what his brother has been doing with his life. As the plot continues the story just keeps getting more and more depressing until a final "boom" at the end makes it slightly less depressing.

I wouldn't recommend it or read it again.
Jun 08, 2009 Kathryn rated it did not like it
This book received the 2009 Edgar Award for best first mystery. The other contenders must have been totally without merit because there was nothing terribly mysterious about Francie Lin's plot or characters. I did appreciate glimpsing Taipei but probably only because I have a couple of Taiwanese friends.
Monica Copeland
Dec 08, 2008 Monica Copeland rated it did not like it
I see what the author was going for, that general feeling of disembodiment and mysterious confusion in a place new but part of your past. But, it was mostly a let-down, and I found myself more and more annoyed by the naive fumblings of the narrator.
I feel like a bit of a jerk rating this one low, because 1.) this is probably the first book I've ever read that is set in Taiwan, and I enjoyed imagining a place I'd never "been" before, and 2.) I think Francie Lin's overarching motif of her late blooming, sheltered narrator Emerson Chang grappling with the ties that hold him to his non-starter past is compelling. But, some of the action scenes feel rushed and thus, confused. Also, characters make really weird, illogical decisions that don't ma ...more
Jul 24, 2016 Wenting rated it really liked it
oh wow, i'm surprised by how so many reviewers (or at least the first few i scrolled past) disliked this book. and its overall abysmal rating, perhaps the lowest of any book i've read/ liked. actually, i'm not surprised - if i didn't feel such direct empathy for that weasel of a main character emerson i'd have reacted similarly. (also, the writing is excellent). i can accept, even champion a lot of the cliches, etc because to me they all feel true. there are a lot of good sons/ bad sons dynamics ...more
May 28, 2011 Juha rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Well, I wouldn't.
This was a very frustrating book. The intercultural premise intrigued me—and the fact that it had won the Edgar Award—so I picked it up at the airport for a coast-to-coast flight. The book begins interestingly enough—and Francie Lin does write well—so it was not difficult to get started with it. But the further I read, the less I liked it. There are just too many annoying factors. First, there are so many inconsistencies and the entire story is less than credible that the praise it has received ...more
May 21, 2009 Gerund rated it liked it
This is not your usual sentimental story about an American-born Chinese finding his roots. Instead, this page-turning debut novel by American writer Francie Lin reads more like a Hong Kong gangster flick, right down to the estranged brothers who find themselves on different sides.

Emerson, 40, lives an uneventful life as an unambitious financial analyst in San Francisco. The extent of his social life is meeting his Taiwanese immigrant mother for dinner every Friday.

Though it starts like a domesti
Apr 28, 2009 Anne rated it liked it
This is the story about 40-year old Emerson, still a virgin and having weekly Friday night dinners with his overbearing mother. As he fulfills his familial obligations, Emerson recounts his childhood, including losing his father at age 11, and his relationship with his mother laden with awkward sexual undertones. Emerson's younger brother, Little P, fled back to Taipain 10 years earlier with little to no contact since. Emerson decides to return to his homeland to find his brother and potentially ...more
Jun 03, 2009 Victoria rated it really liked it
In The Foreigner, by Francie Lin, we meet Emerson Chang. A forty year old bachelor who leads a less than exciting life in his stuffy pressed suits as a financial analyst. His world is flipped upside down by the death of his mother, which leads him to a completely life changing adventure of sorts to Taipei to settle the inheritance of his mysteriously crooked younger brother; Little P.
The way this story is written alone is well worth the read. Filled with characters you may never want to come ac
Feb 25, 2014 Tara rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014, asia
This was an OK read. Despite the terrible reviews I still decided to delve into the "criminal" side of Taiwan with the help of Francie. Since living in Taiwan I've never come across a fictional book based here, so I was intrigued. I do think Lin gave nice insight and descriptions of Taipei but for me the praise stops there.

The whole situation that Emerson gets himself involved in is slightly unbelievable yet extremely predictable at the same time. Throughout the whole book I was waiting for that
Rogue Reader
Nov 03, 2012 Rogue Reader rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery-china
The Foreigner won a well-deserved Edgar for the Best First Novel in 2008. It's the story of Emerson Chang, a mild-mannered, passive, dutiful son of his stick figure mother. The mother dies, and as executor, Emerson seeks out his black sheep brother in Taiwan to put her ashes to rest and turn over an inheritance.

There's an ugly stench of decay and deceit in every place and every exchange that Emerson has in Taiwan. It's only the unrequited love of an American Chinese woman who saves his life, tim

Not sure why this book was chosen as Edgar Best First Novel. The mystery part was nearly non-existent. Emerson was bland and flat, a disappointment as a main character for the most part, although there were a couple of scenes in which I thought he might develop.

Lin's descriptions of Taipei were very dark and gave me the creeps, so must have been well done if they could evoke such a reaction. The same could be said for the manipulative actions of the mother and the interactions between Mother &a

David Rogers
May 09, 2008 David Rogers rated it really liked it
If you have a brother, and you feel ambivalently about that brother because perhaps that brother has committed an unspeakable crime, but then your mother for some reason has willed the family business to him anyway, and that act of maternal betrayal has left you feeling just a little bit bitter, but you still feel like you should try to find your brother and do whatever it takes to hold the family together, then this book is for you. If you don't have a brother, or seem to find yourself in this ...more
Feb 07, 2013 Al rated it liked it

When his mother suddenly dies, Emerson sets out for Taipei to scatter her ashes, and to convey a surprising inheritance to his younger brother, Little P. Now enmeshed in the Taiwanese criminal underworld, Little P seems to be running some very shady business out of his uncle's karaoke bar, and he conceals a secret--a crime that has not only severed him from his family, but may have annihilated his conscience. Hoping to appease both the living and the dead, Emerson isn’t about to give up the in

I spent over eighteen years living in Taiwan, but looks like there's a whole other side to the place I never got to see before. While I'd heard about the drugs gangs and criminal underworld, this book gave me my first real look at Taipei's dirty underbelly. This book is definitely not for everyone, but if you like China-based fiction (or at least Republic of China-based), this was a fascinating and fairly non-traditional read. Not a perfect book by any means -- I found the ending in particular k ...more
Catherine  Mustread
Feb 07, 2009 Catherine Mustread rated it liked it
Recommended to Catherine by: Edgar Award Best First Novel By An American Author winner
Shelves: mystery, award, china, taiwan
Forty-year-old Emerson, devastated after the death of his Mother, leaves San Francisco for a crime-filled part of Taiwan in search of his younger brother, Little P, who disappeared 10 years previously. Although I'm not a fan of novels with a sense of forthcoming doom, the suspense, setting and the family relationships kept me turning the pages and I was surprised by the plot twists and final outcome. Reminded me of Flower Net by Lisa See.
Jan 31, 2010 Anita rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I found myself returning this book to the library before I was done; sorry Francie Lin! Not that it wasn't good but I just found that I couldn't get through it at this point in my life. I simply don't know why. The classic story of the bad son being favoured over the good son by the mother probably as a means to bring the wild offspring back into the family fold. Does it ever work? I don't know because I didn't persist with the book to find out. Perhaps I'll pick it up at a later date to find ou ...more
Sep 26, 2008 크리스티 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-rental
I thought the book started off good and I had hoped that it would really take off but it seemed to fall flat towards the end. I was glad that Emerson got a little "braver" towards the end and was excited that something good was going to happen. I had to say I was hooked to the end of the book I wanted to find out what was going to happen so I think Francie did a good job of telling a story but needs a little help with character development. I would suggest this book to people who I know would li ...more
Oct 24, 2015 Kristin rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 01, 2011 Seth added it
This started out well but didn't seem to live up. Towards the middle, I was wondering when things were going to start happening, and about 3/4 of the way through, I realized they never were. The writing was good, but I'm not sure she knew where she wanted to go with things. The end especially felt like a mess. All of a sudden it seemed like things were symbolic instead of actually happening, and it made me wonder if the whole book was supposed to be read that way. Opinions seem divided on this o ...more
Jan 18, 2011 mwbham rated it really liked it
This is a novel about a Chinese American family. The mother asks that her 40 year old son, Emerson, return her ashes to Taiwan to be placed in a temple there. And, while there - would he find her other son, "Little P" (Xiao P), who has abandoned them 10 years earlier. The culture clash is unexpected given Emerson is Chinese. Emerson finds it difficult to understand his brother and what he is involved in and why he can't help remove him from harm's way. I enjoyed the descriptive writing by the au ...more
Sep 01, 2008 Ann rated it it was ok
This book started out just great. The stories of a 40 year old virgin having dinner with his mother every week were classic in their descriptions of conversation without communication.

But once the mother died and the main character decided to visit his long lost brother in China, it went downhill. It had a ridiculous plot and not a single sympathetic character. I kept reading it thinking it might have a good ending, but it did not. I do not recommend it.
Jan 12, 2009 Ali rated it really liked it
Francie is one of my oldest friends whom I knew would turn into an author. This is her debut novel. I didn't expect her to write a thriller/mystery, to which she replied, "It didn't start out that way, but its how it turned out." Francie is able to transport you to the gritty streets of Taiwan, illuminate the politics of independence, and have your heartstrings pulled by the interplay of family loyalty and self-preservation. It was a compelling read.
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