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The Emperor of Shoes

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  232 ratings  ·  73 reviews
“Evocative… The Emperor of Shoes underscores the extent to which the promise of economic opportunity still moves people across great distances on our planet…[A novel] of our times…”— New York Times Book Review

*A Library Journal Best Debut of Summer 2018*

From an exciting new voice in literary fiction, a transfixing story about an expatriate in southern China and his burge
Hardcover, 330 pages
Published June 5th 2018 by Hanover Square Press
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3.63  · 
Rating details
 ·  232 ratings  ·  73 reviews

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Angela M
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it

“It’s a bright moon outside, and from the window of my house I can see the skeletal gray of the factory, the banners draped like sashes and the deep arterial red of Mandarin characters demanding change, and I’m wondering how the fuck this Jewish kid from Boston could somehow wind up a YouTube hero in the Chinese Revolution.”

That wonderfully written and thought provoking beginning paragraph certainly drew me in and I wanted to know. It’s 2015 in South China and Alex Cohen at 26 years old ends up
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Guangdong, South China 2015. Fedor Cohen is the primary owner of The Tiger Shoe Factory. The factory consists of an administration building, two production plants and two dormitories. Fedor, a Jewish Bostonian, runs his business with precision and order, resisting change. Alex Cohen, Fedor's twenty-six year old son, is being groomed to take over the family business. A father-son conflict of ideas is on the horizon.

Upon scrutiny, Alex realizes that maintaining the bottom line and increasing produ
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
5 exciting stars to The Emperor of Shoes! 👠 👞 👠 👟 👠

The Emperor of Shoes is an unexpectedly delicious read. Alex Cohen is a twenty-six-year-old Jewish expatriate living in southern China. He is needed there to run his family’s shoe factory.

Alex is reluctant in taking this role, and once he does, as he travels the floors of the business, he is shocked by the exploitation and corruption he witnesses therein.

Alex then meets Ivy, a seamstress in his factory, who is secretly a political organizer,
Jun 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Last words......

Dad said, "On his deathbed, Rabbi Akiba told his son, 'Wear a decent pair of shoes.' Those were his last words."

And in keeping shoes worthy of Rabbi Akiba, Alex Cohen, via Boston to southern China, assists his father in a family-owned shoe factory in Guandong. Being Jewish and living in China doesn't necessarily make you a citizen of the world. According to Alex, being Jewish, alone, always makes you an outsider.

Alex embraces his newly acquired life with a bit of intrepidation. B
Jun 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: edelweiss, net-galley
My reviews an be found here: https://yayareadslotsofbooks.wordpres...

Life always seems to be in a state of flux. As we grow, we develop relationships, some of them tenuous which have a pull and tug connection between our selves and our world in which we live.

Alex Cohen is a young Jewish man living in Southern China. He and his father own a shoe factory and have a relationship that can be considered at times contentious. Alex's dad is the boss. His word is law and though at times his words to Al
Sep 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Despite his lack of experience, Alex Cohen's father Fedor makes him a partner in the shoe business Fedor has built in China. Alex, who is 26 in 2015, is falling in love with Ivy, a 36 year old stitcher in the shoe factory. Ivy, whose sister was killed in Tiananmen Square, is secretly part of a revolutionary group that wants to increase the rights of Chinese workers.

I'm afraid that this book was just ok for me. There were some interesting descriptions of life in China, but one of my problems wit
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Dream big is something we all have been advised at least once in life. But a tine idea, a small change is also capable of bringing a change in our lives as well as others. The Emperor of Shoes is one such tale. Alex, the son, and inheritor of an established shoemaking company in China is yet to find his purpose. His life takes a toll when he joins the company and discovers the ways his father has been running the company, mainly the underlying bribery and exploitation.

Alex meets a girl whose rev
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In the Emperor of Shoes, Spencer Wise, dares to ask for a little more buck for the bang. 26 year old, Jewish expatriate Alex has a lover and is being groomed to take over his father’s shoe factory in China. Shouldn’t that be enough? Amidst the fine line of a woman’s instep, his living father as the voice in his head (oh vey), and the bribing of officials, Alex awakens to the subjugation of a people in its totality.
The father/son relationship is alive/patronising...real
Ivy, as far as I'm
In his praise for The Emperor of Shoes, Robert Olen Butler describes the book as ‘character-rich’ and I can’t disagree.  That doesn’t mean, however, that the characters are necessarily easy to like.

I found myself constantly shifting my view of Alex’s father, Fedor, accorded the accolade the ‘Emperor of Shoes’ (as he proudly reminds people).  One minute I felt he was merely an ambitious father trying his best to preserve the family business for his son in the face of changing market forces; the n
Jul 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How often do we buy something that says Made in China? When we do, do we stop and wonder about the conditions of the people who made this pair of jeans, this phone in our hand or the shoes on our feet?

At twenty-six years of age, Alex Cohen hasn’t really been questioning these things either, despite the fact his father owns a shoe factory in China. It isn’t until Alex meets Ivy, a seamstress at the factory, that his sympathies begin to shift.

This novel is mainly centred around the relationship be
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“Only the wearer knows if the shoe fits.”
President Xi Jinping

One of the most marvellous things about reading is that one can be transported to another world. Here, the reader is virtually transported to two. The eponymous ‘Emperor of Shoes’ is an aging Jewish Bostonian and part-owner of a shoe factory in Guangdong, Southern China. His 26-year old son Alex, the narrator, is being groomed to follow in his formidable father’s footsteps. Unusually and without recourse to flashbacks, Spencer Wise int
Susan Hampson
Jul 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
I don’t really suppose that Alex Cohen had given much thought to how the family wealth had been acquired. I don’t suppose you would when you are the third generation in the family shoe business. I am not talking a little high street shop here, I am talking about the production side, the factories that make the shoes for major shoe retailers. So Alex had quite a task on his shoulders because he really wanted his father to be proud of him or at least he did until he saw the real cost of making the ...more
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2018, fiction
Someone recommended this novel in passing to me, giving me the false impression that it was a work of nonfiction. Turns out, it's fiction (no surprise here now) but the suggester had conflated the work with its "local author" significance. Either way, the story grated on me pretty much the whole way through, with the exceptional mention of Kelly's Roast Beef in Revere.

Boston native Alex Cohen is expected to take over his father's shoe factory in southern China. However, Alex has been spending t
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Three words for now:

Insightful, thought-provoking and evocative



BookTrail the locations in the novel

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, soci
Mairead Hearne (
‘This world is opening. Has opened. It’s a different world, the one I’m going to be living in, and I don’t understand my place in it.’

The Emperor of Shoes is the debut novel by American writer Spencer Wise. Published on 26th July by No Exit Press, it has been described as ‘ambitious, tightly plotted, profoundly humane and full of Yiddish humour…a sublime debut’.

This is a novel I expect will fall into the genre of Literary Fiction, dealing with the impact of the social and technological revolut
Twenty-six year old, Alex Cohen has just been made partner of the shoe company that his father runs out of small manufacturing city in China. They live in a nearby 5 star hotel, eating exotic foods at exotic prices, while their workers are living in dormitories on the plant's premises. They live with a 11 pm curfew. The extreme disparity in living conditions makes Alex feel guilty. Calisthenics are required each morning prior to clocking in for the days work. The work is very repetitive and depe ...more
Sid Nuncius
I’m afraid I didn’t get on very well with The Emperor of Shoes. I should have done, really – it’s well written and has a noble aim, but it completely failed to engage me.

Set in China in 2015, Alex is made to take over from his father as controller of the shoe factory he owns. The father is an uncaring, ruthless employer who exploits his workforce and treats them badly, while Alex has a conscience and has also fallen for a beautiful worker in the factory, who is also a fearless campaigner… I’m af
Linda Hill
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Alex Cohen lives in the shadow of his overbearing father as they manufacture shoes in China.

I am going to find it hard to define The Emperor of Shoes because it is partly a love story, partly a social commentary and partly a terrifyingly truthful examination of identity at all levels from the very personal to racial and national. Wherever a reader might want to place The Emperor of Shoes, it is a prodigious example of affecting and effective writing. I can’t believe this is a debut novel and alt
Entrada Book Review
Jun 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent story!

Alex Cohen is the son of a shoe factory owner in China. He is in love with an older female Chinese line worker and gets caught up in her desire to improve factory conditions.

More of an intimate peek into factory production and Americans in China than a love story or even a revolution.

The story centers on Alex and his experiences. His relationship with his father is so strange but also feels very real. The writing is excellent, painting a picture of normal people trying to effect
Jul 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Novel set in SOUTHERN CHINA (a shoeshine revolution)

The Emperor of Shoes is a story of exploitation – of Chinese workers by the factory’s owners. Low wages and poor work conditions so that US department stores can be supplied with ‘affordable’ own label footwear.

The Emperor of Shoes examines the business through the eyes of Alex Cohen, the 26 year old Jewish son of the factory’s overbearing owner. Alex gradually, but increasingly, takes the side of the Chinese workers. This process is obviously
Sue (booknbeachbag)
Sep 13, 2018 rated it liked it
I had much higher expectations when I picked up Spencer Wise's first novel, The Emperor of Shoes. I stuck with it - even with a long wait to get the ebook back from the library after it expired. I wanted to know how things worked out. I wasn't particularly satisfied with the ending.

Wise's writing was engaging and edgy. But sometimes it just wasn't as informative as I needed it to be.

The Emperor of Shoes is sent in 2015 China. Alex, the protagonist, is 26 years old and heir apparent to his father
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Emperor of Shoes is a novel that I enjoyed immensely. There is the storyline itself, that of a son of a shoe manufacturer who feels uncomfortable when he realises how bad the conditions are in their factory. There are the problems across China, some of which led to the terrible events that happened in Tiananmen Square. There is the romance between Alex and Ivy where they have to learn and respect each others cultural differences and most of all there is the relationship between Alex and his ...more
Louise Miller
Aug 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This novel has so many layers—it’s a father and son story, a coming of age story, a story of an ex-pat in China, a love story, and a novel that takes a deep look into American companies who outsource their labor. Wise is a wonderful storyteller, who manages to inject humor into his writing while keeping an unflinching eye on the truth. A fantastic debut.
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
In 'The Emperor of Shoes' set in Guangdong, China, Spencer Wise tells us the story of Alex Cohen, a 26-year-old heir to a thriving shoe business. Of course, the shoe business thrives on the backs of underpaid Chinese workers, which Alex begins to see slowly.

Wise turns the spool unhurriedly, the various threads interleaving beautifully. There is the father-son relationship, which is about the proverbial young son trying to match up to his father's expectations, and go from being constantly contro
Melissa Dee
May 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow! With a profound respect for two ancient heritages, and a clear fascination with modern China and Judaism, Spencer Wise has written an atmospheric and timely story of a “shoe dog” in China. Alex Cohen is a young man in an old world. He is an idealist in a deeply cynical world. I was hoping for him to find his way, even while I was wincing at his naivety.
Mary Picken
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It is 25 years since the massacre at Tiananmen Square. Hong Kong has been handed over and trade between China and America is flourishing. Among those making money from the transition to a more commercial economy is shoemaker Fedor Cohen and his 26 year old son, Alex. Fedor runs the Tiger Shoe Factory in Guangdong, South China. The shoes are unbranded knock off, cheaply produced and sold to mass market shops that retail them with their own brand on them.

The system works because the kickbacks to p
The Literary Shed
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Emperor of Shoes, Spencer Wise’s debut novel, opens with protagonist Jewish–Bostonian Alex Cohen, ‘a YouTube hero in the Chinese Revolution’, contemplating just how he’s got to where he is. And of course, the only way for us to find out is for Alex to look back …

After taking up the reins of his father’s shoemaking business, twenty-something Alex finds himself in Guangdong, South China. The reality of his situation, of running a foreign business using local workers in a country on the cusk of
Looking for a comic but thought-provoking gift book? The Emperor of Shoes, an insightful and often hilarious novel set around a U. S.-owned shoe factory in China, begins by plunging its protagonist Alex Cohen literally into deep shit, the sewage of a polluted Chinese river. He is late—no time to change—on his way to a celebratory dinner with his father and local Chinese party officials to learn that his father has made him manager of the family shoe factory.

This is a problem for Alex, who is awa
Amy Meyerson
May 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I had the pleasure of meeting Spencer Wise at the ALA (American Library Association) Midwinter Conference and knew from the way he discussed his novel that I was in for a treat. The Emperor of Shoes follows Alex Cohen as he navigates taking over his family's shoe factory in southern China while trying to create a fairer work environment for its employees. To complicate matters, Alex is torn between his growing feelings for an outspoken worker, Ivy, and his complicated desire to please his father ...more
Jessica Del Fino
Jun 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
For all of Alex Cohen's life, he's been taught what it means to be a Cohain. He hears of The Sacrifices his father and grandfather have made to build the family's shoe business from nothing, especially how his father gave up everything, including his wife and family, to make the company successful when he sees an opportunity to move the factory to China.

A passive, seemingly disinterested twenty-six year old Jewish kid from Boston, Alex has just signed the paperwork to begin taking the reins fro
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“I could see in the window the lake but also my own naked body...The dragon boat rowed toward me now, spearing my chest, moving through me, superimposed on the window, and it sifted through me like a ghost ship or through it.” 1 likes
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