★★★★★ Farewell the Dragon by Lee Barckmann is an ambitious, emotive novel exploring the troubles of an American ex-pat named Nate Schuett living in Beijing during the 1980’s. After an acquaintance gets a job as a stunt double—for no less than Peter O’Toole, who’s filming in China for The Last Emperor—Nate is tapped to fill his friend’s vacant teaching at a local university. Before long, Nate makes himself at home—and ends up embroiled in a murder-suicide investigation involving two Europeans. Through numerous talks with Chinese officials, Nate tells his story, and attempts to help solve the mystery surrounding these deaths. But Nate, perhaps, isn’t telling the whole story. The more he reveals about himself, the less he’ll come to understand about the city he lives in and the people he calls his friends.
Barckmann beautifully captures the unique climate of Beijing—and China at large—in the months and years leading up to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Through a careful unpacking of culture, religion, and economic zeitgeist, Barckmann begins to put his finger on the facts that separate East from West, if indeed there are any to be found. But, more than that, Farewell the Dragon is a rigorous examination of personal agency and universal morality. It contains all of the toxic glamor of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and a moderate dash of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. While undeniably dense, Barckmann’s novel is one that has achieved something rare: It has uncovered a unique corner of twentieth century culture and delicately sculpted it into a story worth remembering and reading for years to come.