Last Days in Shanghai, by Casey Walker           

                                           Last Days in Shanghai, by Casey Walker           


"When this phase of China’s development is past, will anyone believe that such a place existed? The mad faith in progress, the worship at the altars of construction and acquisition, and the scale of individual ambition all seem fantastical to anyone who has not seen it firsthand. “Last Days in Shanghai,” a debut novel by Casey Walker, evokes this world with sharp observations and a soulfulness that is often missing in outsider views of the country....Walker’s achievement is to turn this landscape into a reflection of our own inner turmoil, where jackhammers never stop, courtyard homes become gold-­fingered skyscrapers and city blocks disappear overnight — a place at once dream­scape and nightmare....He is a talented weaver of stories." 


“Last Days in Shanghai features a fine menagerie of miserable characters: the craven congressman, the tycoon who uses humans like kindling for his own hearth, the drunken, preening cadres lining their pockets with siphoned cash, and the female translator whom  Luke imagines he can rescue from a life spent serving these men.  A sincere fury runs through all of these characterizations, as if the author’s anger is channeled not at his characters’ corruption per se, but at the overall system in which corruption is the only logical choice. Everyone is being played by someone else, defying the reader’s desire for the kind of puppetmaster villain the thriller genre has conditioned us to expect.  The true antagonist in Last Days is China itself….Casey Walker is able to pull all this off because he gets every Chinese detail right, down to the lids on the teacups in official Party meeting rooms.  Full credit must also be given to the way Walker mines the sensory environment of China—its sights, sounds, smells—for symbolic fuel.  He conscripts the people, the topography, the half-built towers, the smog, the endless fencing, and the convulsed earth into shadowing his narrative, sculpting it, just as shadows bring out the depth and contour of a human face.  It is in these descriptions that Walker’s abundant skill most clearly shines through….Last Days in Shanghai is fine work, […] solid and precisely crafted….It’s an anti-Bildungsroman about a young man’s steady demolition.”

KIRKUS (Starred Review)

"Slimy all-American graft oozes from beneath the economic aspirations of contemporary China in this witty, illuminating thriller.  Walker’s impressive debut novel is a post-millennial noir thriller in which the grubbier impulses of two superpowers intersect with life-altering results....[a] detailed and tautly rendered tour of both the smoggy physical landscape of 21st-century China and the even mistier psychological terrain of an aimless American forced to negotiate a clear path between risk and responsibility....Though its observations about China’s construction boom and the dismal state of American politics are as fresh as the morning news feed, Walker’s novel also feels like a disquieting peek deep into the coming decades of global economic upheaval."


"If your opinion of Congress wasn’t already at rock bottom, it will be by the end of Walker’s shockingly plausible literary debut.....China’s no-holds-barred economy serves as the perfect setting for bringing these debauched and dishonest dregs of Congress out into the smoggy Chinese sunlight. As the situation veers out of his control, Luke’s rising panic transforms an outrageous tale of embezzlement into a rollicking moral drama."


"[I]n Walker’s China little seems safe, at least not when it comes to matters of conscience....[T]he entire enterprise feels as though it’s taking place, as does one of the later scenes, on the 55th floor of a new Chinese high-rise hotel, with the wind blowing so hard that everything, with or without alcohol or fear, sways from side to side. Given all this, it might seem more appealing to stay home and take this unnerving junket in the form of this entertaining first novel."


"This edgy first novel delivers a scathing indictment of congressional politics as it follows a young aide on a business trip to China.…Walker’s smart writing on a host of issues, including China’s frenzied construction boom, which has paved over ancient traditions block by block, and the sorry state of American politics, gives this cautionary tale frisson."


"A fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Walker spent time in China in 2007 and it shows. He's seen the ubiquitous construction cranes sending skyscrapers into clouds of smog where their "skysucking towers altered the whistle of Shanghai wind." He knows the shady ways that money changes hands and people's lives, the mantra of "embezzle, skim, divide the spoils." Last Days in Shanghai displays a good deal of cynicism about the "Chinese economic miracle" and the United States' naïve efforts to exploit it. But it's also a perceptive novel about the old giving way to the new and of one young man's attempts to find an abiding moral center in the heady swirl of a Washington-Beijing axis of money, power, women and corruption. Walker dances with the big global superpowers and waltzes away with a suspenseful modern story of sin, subterfuge and redemption." 

Edward Burtynsky,  Old City Overview, Shanghai

Edward Burtynsky,  Old City Overview, Shanghai


Karen Russell

"Last Days in Shanghai is both a comedy and a horror story about mistaken identity and moral inertia; it's also a dreamlike tour through the backalleys of Shanghai, a fever-bright landscape that corresponds to the mental labyrinth of fear and desire.The story is fabulous; the language will knock you flat."—author of New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer Prize Finalist, Swamplandia!

Jim Shepard

"Last Days in Shanghai is about how easily we live our lives in thrall to our own evasions and how fervently we hope for redemption, and its protagonist, who imagines himself to be hardboiled but is really mostly softheaded, is one of those functionaries who helps our corrupt global system toot along despite being all confusion and hopeless compromise. For all his appeal, he presents himself as yet another Innocent Abroad for the same reason most of us do: to deny our complicity in the damage that follows in our wake." —National Book Award Nominee and author of Like You'd Understand, Anyway

Charles Baxter

"Money, sex, and free enterprise: American politics isn’t as bad as you think it is. It’s much worse, and Casey Walker’s truly brilliant first novel about Americans in China pioneers a kind of hallucinatory realism on the subject that leaves the reader laughing and appalled and scared. Last Days in Shanghai knows just how bad things can get, and its hero, an innocent abroad before he gets wised-up, is as American as apple pie and the Republican Party."--National Book Award Nominee and author of The Feast of Love