In the Lap of the Gods

The ThreeGorges Dam in China, which blocked the flow of the Yangtse River, is the mostpowerful hydroelectric project ever attempted. The largest feat of engineeringin China since The Great Wall, the dam will displace millions of people in someof the most fertile, most beautiful, and most ecologically sensitive land onearth. It’s against this maelstrom of extremes that Li Miao Lovett sets In the Lap of the Gods, her ambitiousand often moving first novel.

Liu Renfu is a grieving widower engaged in the illegalwork of scavenging valuables from homes deserted as the dammed Yangtze river floodsthe land. On one such foray, he finds an abandoned baby, her basket ready toswirl into the rising current. Liu collects the girl, “A littlekitten…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’stime to hand her over to a middleman in a nearby city, he can’t quite give herup. He names her Rose, concocts a cover story for them both, and sets abouttrying to earn a living.

As Liu searches for love and, yes, meaning in his life, Lovettoffers 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. Inthe Lap of the Gods is an affecting story of massive change, told in smallmoments.