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Rock Paper Tiger
by Lisa Brackmann

Published: 2010-06-01
Hardcover : 368 pages
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American Iraq War veteran Ellie Cooper is down and out in Beijing when a chance encounter with a Uighur--a member of a Chinese Muslim minority--at the home of her sort-of boyfriend Lao Zhang turns her life upside down. Lao Zhang disappears, and suddenly multiple security organizations are ...
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American Iraq War veteran Ellie Cooper is down and out in Beijing when a chance encounter with a Uighur--a member of a Chinese Muslim minority--at the home of her sort-of boyfriend Lao Zhang turns her life upside down. Lao Zhang disappears, and suddenly multiple security organizations are hounding her for information. They say the Uighur is a terrorist. Ellie doesn?t know what's going on, but she must decide whom to trust among the artists, dealers, collectors, and operatives claiming to be on her side?in particular, a mysterious organization operating within a popular online role-playing game. As she tries to elude her pursuers, she's haunted by memories of Iraq. Is what she did and saw there at the root of the mess she's in now?

Lisa Brackmann has worked as a motion picture executive and an issues researcher in a presidential campaign. A southern California native, she's lived and traveled extensively in China. She lives in Venice, California.

"A terrifying odyssey in present-day China . . . with the protagonist pursued by the Chinese and American governments alike in a global panorama. A totally captivating page-turner with vivid, first-hand details and nuanced multi-cultural facets."--Qiu Xiaolong, author of The Mao Case

"Lisa Brackmann's Rock Paper Tiger is a compelling debut that takes you deep into the dangerous, complicated heart of modern China, with a tough and appealing heroine in Ellie."--Jeff Abbott, author of Trust Me

Editorial Review

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Chapter One:

I ’m living in this dump in Haidian Qu, close to Wudaokou, on the twenty-first floor of a decaying high-rise. The grounds are bare; the trees have died; the rubber tiles on the walkways, in their garish pink and yellow, are cracked and curling. The lights have been out in the lobby since I moved in; they never finished the interior walls in the foyers outside the elevator, and the windows are boarded up, so every time I step outside the apartment door I’m in a weird twilight world of bare cement and blue fluorescent light. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1. Central to Rock Paper Tiger is the concept of the Surveillance State, in which one’s
every move is observed. In what ways does Ellie believe she is being watched? To what
extent are these beliefs rational? What are the different forms that surveillance takes?
What are the similarities and differences between the Chinese and Western surveillance
2. Throughout the novel, flashbacks are used to show Ellie’s past. How does Ellie’s
backstory illuminate what she’s going through in the present? How does her past
influence her decisions?
3. What impact does Ellie’s economic situation have on the story? How does this affect
her decision making? Similarly, how do the economic situations of Ellie’s mother and
Trey affect their decisions?
4. The American Suits who are after Ellie don’t work for the government but for a private
company that may be a front for government intelligence. The Chinese Suits who detain
her in Taiyuan take her to a “Black Jail,” an unofficial facility. Private contractors were
also involved in the interrogations Ellie witnessed in Iraq. What is the significance of this
blurring of lines between government and private authorities? What effect might this
blurring have on civil rights and civil society?
5. The China portrayed in Rock Paper Tiger contains many of the trappings of modern
Western capitalist democracies—shopping malls, fast food chains, consumer goods—and
yet political freedom is strictly regulated. What does this suggest about the relationship
between modern capitalism and democracy?
6. The chain restaurant concept was created in America to allow travelers to visit a place
that would be familiar no matter where they went. Ellie initially was happier in China
because it was so different from what she knew in the States and Iraq, yet she seeks out
things that are culturally familiar, such as Starbucks, whenever she is particularly
stressed. What does this suggest about Ellie’s psychological state?
7. What is the role of artists and art in a society where political freedom is limited? How
does Lao Zhang fit into an art scene where so many Chinese artists have found wealth
and popularity? What does art mean for “common” people like Ellie, who readily admits
that she doesn’t quite “get” the art that she sees?
8. Ellie’s odyssey through China takes her to many tourist destinations, including the
Great Wall and the fictionalized Daoist mountain, Changqing Shan. How does selling a
cultural or historical experience change it? How does this relate to the treatment of art
and artists in the novel?
9. Part of Ellie and Trey’s relationship is based on their religious faith. Trey keeps his
faith; Ellie loses hers. Why did two people with similar beliefs and wartime experiences
come to such different conclusions? How do you think Trey reconciled his faith with his
wartime actions? How did Ellie’s questioning of her old beliefs affect her decision
10. The Great Community within the online game is a nod to Qing Dynasty reformer
Kang Youwei (for more information, visit http://www.lisabrackmann.com/books/rockpaper-
tiger), whose “Great Community” was a utopian one world state characterized by
sweeping egalitarianism and the elimination of class distinctions and private property.
What do you see as the ideals behind the novel’s “Great Community”? How do Lao
Zhang’s ideas about community differ from Harrison Wang’s?
11. Online games and communities are extremely popular in both the United States and
China. Why have virtual communities become so attractive to so many people? What
does this say about the nature of real-life communities today? What are the limitations of
virtual communities? Does Ellie find a “home” online, or is this an escape from the “real”

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from the author:

I’ve been traveling to China for many years. There’s no way that a novel can encompass the complexity of contemporary China, but I wanted to give readers a taste of a country that I love and that confounds me.

Which is much the same relationship that I have to my native country, the USA. The other motivation behind Rock Paper Tiger was a “War on Terror” that I watched unfold with an appalled fascination, like you would a train wreck that you see coming but are powerless to prevent.

I also have long thought that, for all the differences between the United States and China, the ways in which both countries express themselves as empires compliment rather than contradict each other. In both countries, “ordinary” people are frequently tossed about by large, impersonal power structures that devalue the individual. I wanted to look at how some people try to live creative lives in the midst of political repression and economic distress.

I wanted to do all this within the confines of a suspenseful novel that’s fun to read, with a large dose of humor, a dash of surrealism, and a sympathetic, if flawed heroine whose search for answers (and a decent cup of coffee) takes her, and the reader, on a wild ride through China today and America just yesterday: a recent past that’s already being consigned to the memory hole.

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Member Reviews

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  "If you enjoy the "f" word, this book is for you"by E T. (see profile) 07/10/10

I couldn't get very far into this book as there was crass language in about every paragraph. I think the author is hiding behind this shock trick to disguise poor writing. Disappointing--it promised... (read more)

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