China Run: A Novel

China Run: A Novel

by David Ball

Hardcover

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Overview

"Allison realized she'd been awake for twenty-four hours. She hadn't done that since college. It had been the most remarkable twenty-four hours of her life -- hours in which, for better or worse, a choice had been made, a line crossed. There was no going back. Each time she thought about it, she felt the same strange shock: She was a straitlaced civil engineer from Denver, huddled in the bowels of a broken-down cargo boat on the Wan Li Chang Jiang, the Yangtze River. Hunted by police, with her stepson and a baby that wasn't legally hers.

"With all that, she was not even heading toward Shanghai, toward home.

"Instead, she was heading upriver, deeper into the heart of China...."


AS FRESH AS TODAY'S HEADLINES -- THE CHILLING, SUSPENSEFUL STORY OF A MOTHER, A NEWLY ADOPTED CHILD, AND A FOREIGN GOVERNMENT TRYING TO SEPARATE THEM...


For Allison Turk, the journey to China to claim the daughter she is adopting had been a trying experience, a series of false starts and long waits. Forced to travel without her husband, she makes the trip with her nine-year-old stepson. She hopes it will be a bonding experience, but so far this hasn't happened.

When she finally holds the little girl in her arms, however, she knows that the trip has been worth all the effort and ag gravation. In only two days, she will board a plane for home, taking with her the greatest pride and joy she has ever known.

Then suddenly everything unravels. Summoned to an emergency meeting of the adoptive parents, Allison is told a mistake has been made -- a "clerical error." The Americans have been given healthy infants rather than children with special needs, for which they are technically qualified, and they are told they must exchange their babies for different children. Allison is faced with a terrible decision: Should she capitulate and surrender the child she has come to love intensely, or risk an attempt to reach the American consulate in Shanghai, where she might at least have a chance to negotiate and keep her baby?

Joining with several other American couples caught in the same dilemma, Allison chooses to run. There is a more sinister reason underlying the nightmare than they know about, and their flight spawns a massive manhunt led by a ruthless police colonel wielding all the terrifying apparatus of a police state. What ensues is tense, dramatic, and totally believable -- a race in which Allison not only struggles with her infant daughter and recalcitrant stepson, but is caught in a political tug-of-war that forces her to display a depth of courage and a strength of will she had never known she possessed.

Inspired by a true-life incident, China Run takes the reader on a breathtaking chase across China that is gripping, compulsively readable, and frighteningly real.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743227438
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 07/30/2002
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.42(w) x 9.48(h) x 1.11(d)

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

Shao Lin was haunted by the memory of the bitter winter when she had dug a shallow grave for the baby. A rare cold front had descended from Mongolia and turned the sky that day as cold and leaden as her soul. She'd scratched through the snow and pawed at the frozen earth until her fingers bled. Hot tears mingled with her blood. The hole was soon big enough, because the bundle was so small.

A girl, it was. Xiao Xi. A small happiness.

But there was no happiness at all. With permission for only one child, the child must not be a girl. A woman came into the world to bear sons, not daughters. Sons to carry on the family name. Sons to inherit the family's possessions. Sons to support parents in old age and then to sweep their graves. Daughters married away, worthless. For a hundred generations it had been so.

"So you are your mother's daughter after all," her husband raged when she called out to him that his firstborn was a girl. "You are cursed!" It was true. Her mother had borne four girls and no boys. Her mother's mother had six children -- all girls. He had worried the affliction ran in her family.

The face of her mother-in-law was grim as she took the baby. "I will do it," she told Shao Lin. But she had not had to do a thing. The baby made it easy. There was something in her throat, something in the way -- mucus, perhaps -- and she wasn't breathing right. She was choking and needed a slap. The mother-in-law set her down and turned away. The baby went blue and stopped struggling.

Afterward Shao Lin trudged through frozen fields to the hilltop where her husband's great-grandfather was buried beneath a rubble of stone. It was no longer permitted to bury the dead in the ground. Land was too valuable. She should have set the body in the Yangtze, where it would slip away to the sea. But she didn't care about that. She'd done enough that day for her family. She'd done enough that day for China. She'd done enough that day for a lifetime.


There was another memory. Another permission from the government, long awaited, when for a time they stopped tracking her periods on the chalkboard in the village. Another baby was being allowed into the district.

Their baby.

This time her husband wanted to know. They took savings from the box beneath the bed. She traveled all the way to Jiangyin on the back of a cart to see the doctor. He had an ultrasound machine. Everyone used them now, said the old women of the village. Ultrasounds could find girl babies before they were born, and then the easy thing could be done. They made her drink water until she was near bursting and then helped her onto a cold steel table. The doctor rubbed her belly with jelly and pressed a cup to her skin. She strained to see the gray mass moving about on the little black-and-white screen. After a time the doctor nodded and pointed at something.

Shao Lin saw only a smudge. The doctor said the smudge was a girl.

She had an abortion while her husband waited in the hallway outside. She closed her eyes to the cold steel and the doctor's rough hands and told herself it was the best thing.

But the ultrasound fooled the doctor. The dead child was a boy.

Her husband went crazy with grief and anger. He left without her, left her alone on the table. For a whole week her mother-in-law wouldn't let her into the house, so she slept in the straw near the sun-warmed mud walls outside, next to the goats and the sheep.


The next time she left home, to have the baby alone. The child was born in an orange grove beneath a bright sun and cried loudly through strong lungs. When Shao Lin saw it was another girl, she thought about killing herself with the knife she'd used for the cord. It seemed the only way. She couldn't let the child destroy their family, their lives. She couldn't keep it and she couldn't kill it. If she abandoned it, she might spend years in prison.

Shao Lin thought of her cousin, in Suzhou. She was shunned by the family, rumored to be a woman who knew the night streets. To Shao Lin it didn't matter. She needed help and there was nowhere else to turn.

She wrapped the child in warm blankets and walked down the path to the big road, where a farmer gave her a ride on the back of his wagon. He smiled broadly at the child. "A blessing," he said. As they bounced along country roads, the baby fed at her breast and then slept. Shao Lin saw she was beautiful but tried not to look at her face because it was too difficult to look away again. She covered the child and stared dully out at the passing cabbage fields. She spent the night at Shengang town and caught a bus the next morning.

Suzhou was crowded, everything fast and frightening. She had an address. She hunched over as she wandered the streets, trying to hide her baby -- her crime -- from view. Whenever she saw a policeman she turned away, terrified that somehow he might see into her heart and know her intentions. But no one stopped her. No one challenged her. Finally a shopkeeper pointed the way.

Her cousin was a weary, kind woman who was surprised and pleased to see her. If she was a whore, Shao Lin saw no sign of it. The woman listened sympathetically as Shao Lin unburdened herself. "I do know a man," she said.

He arrived that afternoon. His face was fleshy and pockmarked. He wore a baggy Western suit and smelled of fish. Shao Lin disliked him instinctively. When he stripped the child naked, to examine her, Shao Lin's resolve nearly collapsed. She reached for the child, but her cousin restrained her. "There is no choice better than this one," she whispered.

The man looked up. "I'll go if you want," he said. "But if you leave her on the steps of the hospital, we'll get her anyway. This way there's something in it for you."

"What will happen to her?"

"She'll live," he said simply.

Satisfied with the child, the man wrapped her once again in blankets. He did it quickly, without tenderness. He took a wad of bills from his pocket and peeled off a few. He thrust them at Shao Lin. Without thinking she started to reach for them, then faltered, horrified and ashamed. He tossed the bills onto the floor at her feet. He grunted a good-bye to Shao Lin's cousin. As he opened the door a lusty wail erupted from the blanket. He paid no attention. The door closed behind him. Sobbing uncontrollably, Shao Lin slumped to the floor. Her cousin picked up the bills and put them in a drawer.

Shao Lin sat on the floor until dusk. Several times she retched, needing to throw up, but nothing would come. She declined her cousin's offer for a meal and a night's rest.

When she was strong enough, she stood up. She fled from the house and into the night.

* * *

That night a phone rang at a walled compound outside Suzhou.

"Wei?"

"I have another one," said the man with the pockmarked face. "Off the books."

"Yes?"

"This one is perfect. Only two days old. Healthy and well formed. Her mother was exquisite."

"Very good."

"I...I want more for this one."

There was a long silence on the line. "We shall see. Bring her to me."


Shao Lin lied to her husband and to the population control officer, saying the baby died in childbirth. Her husband returned to his fields. The population control officer asked no questions because she didn't care about the answers.

No baby meant the quotas were safe.

Copyright © 2002 by David W. Ball

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