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River East, River West: Longlisted for the Women's Prize 2024

River East, River West: Longlisted for the Women's Prize 2024 by Aube Rey Lescure

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By Aube Rey Lescure

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8 reviews

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A mesmerising reversal of the east–west immigrant narrative set against China’s economic boom, River East, River West is a deeply moving exploration of race, identity and family, of capitalism’s false promise and private dreams. 

Shanghai, 2007: feeling betrayed by her American mother’s engagement to their rich landlord Lu Fang, fourteen-year-old Alva begins plotting her escape. But the exclusive American School – a potential ticket out – is not what she imagined.

Qingdao, 1985: newlywed Lu Fang works as a lowly shipping clerk. Though he aspires to a bright future, he is one of many casualties of harsh political reforms. Then China opens up to foreigners and capital, and Lu Fang meets a woman who makes him question what he should settle for…


04 Jun 2024


River East River West - This was a solid 3 This was a solid 3 out of 5 book for me. It was fine, and didn't drag. I liked the non-linear narrative and the contrasting viewpoints of Alva and Lu Fang. However, all of the characters were supremely unlikeable, and so oblivious to their privilege. I didn't like the ending, which seemed to me to be setting up a sequel. I wouldn't rule out reading more by this author, but maybe not a sequel to this!

03 Jun 2024

Baffled Mushroom

While not my usual genre, I liked this book.

Sloan, Alva, and Lu Fang all had their flaws, but their stories were told honestly and unapologetically; it didn't make them irredeemable or unlikeable, only more human and easier to identify with.

The dual perspectives and split timelines complemented each other, building around each other to give better understanding of the characters and their relationships.

This book highlights the struggles around belonging and acceptance (or not) of your situation. How this was projected on to others was also a powerful, and tragic, part of the story.

One character did feel out of place to me; Gao Xiaofan didn't add anything that another character could not, and as someone who generally dislikes ambiguity, I found his "ending" frustrating.

Overall, I am thankful that in reading and reviewing for the Women's Prize 2024, I was introduced to this moving and fascinating story.

03 Jun 2024


A powerful and moving book that was a pleasure to read and review for the Women's Prize 2024. I was engrossed in Alva, Lu Fang and Sloan's grappling with questions of identity, the concept of 'home', and the repercussions of choices made and withheld.

The three main characters, while flawed, were written with a tenderness which prevented them from being irredeemable. I particularly enjoyed the way that Sloan is only ever seen through the lens of Alva and Lu Fang - because how well can we truly know the interior mind of another person, even those we love the most? Moving between different time periods worked really well, Lu Fang's character gaining another layer of nuance and complexity each time we heard more about his back story.

This was a great choice for our book club, as different aspects of the book resonated with everyone. We had some great chats about the extent to which we want characters to be likeable, what we thought the future held for the book's characters, and which one of them held the most privilege. I'd definitely recommend this book to book clubs and solo readers alike!

03 Jun 2024


This is not a book I would have picked up without the nudge of book club and the Women's Prize shortlist – for that, I'm very grateful because it was a beautiful and rewarding experience.

I found the insight into the two time periods in China fascinating, along with the way both Alva and Lu Fang's living conditions changed so dramatically at different points. Untranslated phrases and cultural references are a natural part of the writing. After looking up a few of these in the first chapter I was worried it would make the reading stilted, but they're incorporated in a clever way and after the first couple of chapters, it doesn't interrupt the flow of the story.

I worried at first that it would feel like a slog to read, but quickly became invested in Alva and Lu Fang's perspectives. My favourite part of the story was seeing the step-father/daughter relationship develop – I can't think of another book I've read with this kind of family relationship explored in this way.

None of the characters in this book are particularly likeable, but they feel honest and nuanced. Sloan was the most frustrating character for me, perhaps because we only see her through daughter Alva and partner Lu Fang. In saying that, I'm glad we didn't get her perspective because I think it enhanced the Alva/Lu Fang relationship. All the characters make infuriating decisions at times and that is perhaps what made this book hard to read in parts, although I also couldn't look away.

River East, River West does deal with some heavy issues, especially towards the latter half of the book. It's a poignant story of longing and belonging across two time periods in China, with characters that linger long after the final page. Knowing this is a debut makes me so curious to read Aube Rey Lescure's future work.

03 Jun 2024


This is a book I might have picked up out of curiosity, driven by the fact my boyfriend lived in China for 6 months in 2008, and this fact forms some of our origin story.

The author put together a book which gave insight into China and Chinese culture at different points in time. This cleverly allowed strong character development alongside making the book accessible to Western readers. I liked the attention to detail regarding food, for example, which is a huge part of culture.

I found every character to have moments where I found them totally unlikeable, but also the author showed vulnerabilities in each character she focussed on. There were also some very hard hitting topics covered, each giving pause for thought.

The reason for my average rating is that it didn’t keep me engaged, and I found the lead up to the ending felt a bit rushed perhaps to tie up some of the loose ends.

02 Jun 2024


This is not my typical type of book at all and reading the blurb it's not one I would have ordinarily picked up but having now read it I can say I would have been missing out. This is a lesson in reading outside your comfort zone and, while I was worried it was going to be a slog at the beginning, by the end I was looking forward to picking it up and flying through the pages.

While the cast of the book is not always likable they felt so real. My heart broke for Minmin almost every time he was on the page, caught between his mother and father. I wanted to know more about the main characters and how their paths ended up crossing. I wanted to learn what made them tick and this is one of the few book I've read where I could picture the future of the characters continuing to change after the book ended.

A brilliant pick for bookclub as we each picked up on different aspects of the book which lead to some very interesting discussions.

01 Jun 2024


River East River West is a thought-provoking novel, set in China spanning several decades from the 1985 to 2008. I found the characters, while generally quite unlikable, to feel very human and real. The story is told from two points of view, Alva, a teenager, and her step-father, Lu Fang, who in the first scene marries Alva's mother. We originally see Lu Fang in a very poor light, but as we get more and more glimpses into his life, we understand the hardship he's been through. I both sympathised and hated Lu Fang at times, which reflects Aube Rey Lescure excellent ability to write such a complex character. Sloan, Alva's mother, is a main character but one we only get to know through the eyes of Alva and Lu Fang. This was an excellent narrative technique and lead to some interesting discussions on whether or not she is a sympathetic character.
I loved River East River West and would recommend it to someone looking for a thought-provoking, engaging novel.

22 Mar 2024


What a great book! Believable characters it's possible to empathise with, an informative look at Chinese culture and colonialism and an interesting perspective on belonging, insider/outsider and identity. The relaxed, easy style of writing made even the difficult sections easy to read and the whole gives much to consider as well as being an excellent story. Highly recommended.

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