Larry's Kidney: Being the True Story of How I Found Myself in China with my Black
Sheep Cousin and His Mail-Order Bride, Skirting the Law to Get Him a
Transplant -- and Save His Life is what it says in its thirty-five word title. If I could add thirty-two more words, I think they'd be: You Won't Like the Title Character Very Much. You May Also Not Like Other Details. But Life Is Not Always Neat, Poignant or Noble. If That Bothers You, Move Down the Shelf.
The quest begins with an out of the blue phone call: After a fifteen year (understandable) silence, Larry asks his cousin, author Daniel Asa Rose, to accompany him to China. Larry's mission is twofold: to find a kidney transplant in a country where it is illegal, and to meet a woman with whom he has been corresponding online. Larry's got money, a degree of tenacity, and perhaps most important? A very good idea of just how unpleasant he is. Larry knows he needs to bring Daniel with him in order to achieve his goals -- besides, Larry's utterly alienated the rest of the family.
Medical tourism, international online dating, China preparing for the Olympics, cross-cultural communication, cousins working through what has often been an acrimonious relationship...it's a heady mix, and the pacing in the first half of the book sometimes approaches frantic. I could see where some might confuse frantic with wacky -- particularly given the usual gravitas of some of the subject matter. But if you step back for a moment and think: The narrator has just arrived in a country to accomplish something that would not be looked upon favorably by its government, with few to no direct resources. He doesn't speak the language, and must take care of a cantankerous kidney transplant candidate who isn't sure about his new girlfriend, isn't interested in cultural immersion or self-improvement and eats nothing but Girl Scout cookies? Frantic starts to make sense, and it's really best to just hang on for the ride.
An appeal to the expatriate community is successful, and the cousins spend time waiting for the kidney in a hospital. As a result, the book changes pace. In another book, Larry would use this time to mull over his life. Then, inspired by the kindness and generosity around him, he would decide to become a better person just before going under the knife. In this book, Larry uses the time to mull over his life, deal with his new girlfriend, eat Kentucky Fried Chicken, and agonize over the cost of the transplant. While he's surrounded by kindness and generosity, little changes. Meanwhile, through Daniel, we get to see views of the city beyond the hospital -- how daily life for its residents is a compilation that is both familiar and strange. We're also introduced to other hospital residents -- people who have the luxury and anxieties that are peculiar to this form of tourism.
Daniel also addresses some of the questions for which there simply isn't time in the first half of the book: Why China? Why not ask family members? Why is Larry, well, Larry? And how will this adventure change the cousins' tenuous relationship? As with Larry himself, the answers are not always clear...or conducive to lessons learned on a global scale. But, well, that's life. Like waiting for an organ transplant, life is rarely tidy, without risk, or guaranteed to have an ideal outcome.
Larry's Kidney: Being the True Story of How I Found Myself in China with my Black Sheep Cousin and His Mail-Order Bride, Skirting the Law to Get Him a Transplant -- and Save His Life
Daniel Asa Rose
William Morrow, May 2009
Find at B&N, Powell's (which also features a self-interview), IndieBound, Amazon, and Goodreads (which includes a video)