The Dancing Girl and the Turtle by Karen Kao

Critics’ Reviews

Mercilessly brutal, terrifying, compelling.

Kao writes in a minimalist present tense, each word meticulously chosen and exquisitely placed in the manner of a poet. The rhythm of her prose was reminiscent of spoken Chinese.

At first the violence is hinted at, masked, not entirely spelled out, but as the book progresses and the character sink into more and more depravity and despair, Kao does not shrink from telling it like it was. The real power of this novel lies in the gradual unveiling of the brutal realities.

Karen Kao is a master of the Noir. There has got to be more to come?

— Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang, author of The Woman who Lost China

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One thing that sets The Dancing Girl apart from similar books is its shocking violence, both sexual and otherwise. It does not gloss over the physical horror of rape or prostitution – or the long-term damage it does to Anyi, who suffers trauma, hallucinations and self-harm until the end. There are scenes in The Dancing Girl that make Fifty Shades of Grey look like light bondage.

— South China Morning Post

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The narrative technique is brilliantly employed, creating a chorus of tones that echoes the rush, ambition, diversity, and indeed much darker elements of 1930s Shanghai.What kept me turning the pages was the humanity, the fully realized psychologies of the narrating voices. Their lives were engrossing; I understood their motivations and how they had gotten to where (and who) they were.

— Expatica

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… political events take a backseat in this very personal story of fatally flawed characters. Anyi and Cho can both be frustrating protagonists, trapped like real-life addicts in destructive patterns of behaviour, but this is precisely what makes them so real. Their redeeming qualities—Cho’s devotion to his cousin, Anyi’s intelligence and sense of humour—mean that a grain of sympathy is retained for them, even when their behaviour is at its worst.

— Historical Novel Society

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The human need for intimacy and understanding is apparent on every page… Progressive attitudes collide with old customs in a world tentatively embracing modernity yet still steeped in tradition. Gripping and complex, this challenging read provides an intensely detailed, often harrowing but ultimately sympathetic insight into a lost culture.

— The Contemporary Small Press

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