In the Lap of the Gods

The Three Gorges Dam in China, which blocked the flow of the Yangtse River, is the most powerful hydroelectric project ever attempted. The largest feat of engineering in China since The Great Wall, the dam will displace millions of people in some of the most fertile, most beautiful, and most ecologically sensitive land on earth. It's against this maelstrom of extremes that Li Miao Lovett sets In the Lap of the Gods, her ambitious and often moving first novel.


Liu Renfu is a grieving widower engaged in the illegal work of scavenging valuables from homes deserted as the dammed Yangtze river floods the land. On one such foray, he finds an abandoned baby, her basket ready to swirl into the rising current. Liu collects the girl, "A little kitten…left for the river god." Then, as dusk falls and the Yangtze rises, he quickly strips the baby's former home of valuables.


Though Liu plans to sell the abandoned infant, when it's time to hand her over to a middleman in a nearby city, he can't quite give her up. He names her Rose, concocts a cover story for them both, and sets about trying to earn a living.


As Liu searches for love and, yes, meaning in his life, Lovett offers up a compelling, sometimes damning portrait of the Three Rivers project. The author has done her research, and though the prose is occasionally awkward, the details of Chinese life shine through. In the Lap of the Gods is an affecting story of massive change, told in small moments.

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