Nine Days Fred Hiatt
Fred Hiatt's "Nine Days" is a jewel of a book. It seamlessly blends several genres, featuring a tightly-drawn adventure, a budding romance and a dead-serious discourse about China's history, culture and political repression, practiced by the Chinese Communist government.
The structure of the plot is well-sketched and quickly engages the reader. Ti-Anna Chen's father, a famous Chinese dissident living in exile in the United States, disappears during a visit to Hong Kong, where he was expected to meet with Chinese dissidents. Ti-Anna's mother and other adults seem powerless to do anything. And so, the teenagers take the initiative.
Ti-Anna, accompanied by her high-school friend, Ethan Wynkoop, embarks on a journey to find her father and rescue him. They travel first to Hong Kong, retrace Chen's footsteps and are eventually steered to Hanoi. There, they run afoul of a sex trafficking ring and discover that Ti-Anna's father was kidnapped by Chinese security agents and is now imprisoned in China.
While the action is fast-paced, the adventures are believable. The characters are strongly drawn, and the voices, particularly of Ethan Wynkoop, who functions as the main narrator, are both compelling and authentic. The portrayals of Hong Kong and Hanoi - of its streets, foods and people - are vivid and colorful. Be warned, the book may turn many readers into noodle aficionados. The budding romance between Ti-Anna and Ethan is portrayed sparingly and tastefully and meshes well with the narrative.
The book's authenticity stems in part from the fact that it builds upon a true story of Ti-Anna Chen's real-life counterpart, Ti-Anna Wang, whose father, Wang Bingzhang, was kidnapped by the Chinese government during a trip to Vietnam, where he went to meet with Chinese dissidents. It also helps a great deal that the author is able to infuse skillfully, through Ethan's narrator voice, a wealth of information about China's culture and political history into both the plot and character development.
This fascinating adventure tale is oriented at young adults and, with any luck, will spark interest in them about the real-life dramatic issues that populate today's newspaper headlines. But, even if you don't have a teenager in your house, consider reading the book for yourself. It is a guilty pleasure and well worth it.