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Your face in mine
Row, Jess, author.
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Holland, OH : Dreamscape Media, LLC, [2014]
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9 audio discs (11 hours, 44 minutes) : CD audio, digital ; 4 3/4 in.
One afternoon after Kelly Thorndike moves back to his hometown, an African-American man he doesn't recognize calls out to him. To Kelly's shock, the man identifies himself as Martin, one of his closest friends in high school--and, before his disappearance nearly twenty years before, skinny, white, and Jewish. Martin then tells an astonishing story: After years of immersing himself in black culture, he's had a plastic surgeon perform 'racial reassignment surgery' and is living a new life.
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Compact discs.
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Audiobook on CD


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One afternoon, not long after Kelly Thorndike has moved back to his hometown of Baltimore, an African American man he doesn't recognize calls out to him. To Kelly's shock, the man identifies himself as Martin, who was one of Kelly's closest friends in high school - and, before his disappearance nearly twenty years before, skinny, white, and Jewish. Martin then tells an astonishing story: he's had a plastic surgeon perform 'racial reassignment surgery.' Now, however, Martin feels he can no longer keep his new identity a secret; he wants Kelly to help him ignite a controversy that will help sell racial reassignment surgery to the world. Kelly, still recovering from the death of his wife and child, agrees, and things quickly begin to spiral out of control.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* In Row's (The Train to Lo Wu, 2005) disquieting near-future medical tale, 38-year-old Kelly Thorndike learns that all things are fungible after he has a chance encounter with a former high-school classmate. The guy who once was Martin Lipkin, Jewish bassist in a rock band with Kelly, is now Martin Wilkinson, a wealthy African American international entrepreneur, complete with a gorgeous African American wife and two African American daughters. They are adopted, of course, because Martin has had racial reassignment surgery, or RRS. Turns out there's a physician in Bangkok who's added RRS to his repertoire of gender-reassignment surgeries, perfecting the processes of changing skin color, hair texture, facial structure the whole nine yards. Now Martin wants public-radio-station manager Kelly to document his story to help him come out, as it were, for purposes of, well, no spoilers here. Row has outdone himself in a first novel that offers great quantities of food for thought and discussion involving, for starters, questions of race and identity. Plunging deeper than common notions of the self and racial distinctions, Row presents wholly credible, if not thoroughly trustworthy, characters and complicated circumstances that will inspire serious reflection.--Chavez, Donna Copyright 2010 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

This furiously smart first novel from Row (who wrote the short story collection The Train to Lo Wu) opens up difficult conversations about race and identity. The narrator, Kelly Thorndike, is back in his hometown, Baltimore, after his wife and daughter die in an accident. Now in his mid-30s, Kelly reconnects with Martin, a friend from his high school days. Back then, Martin was a white Jewish kid known as Martin Lipkin, but he suffered from racial dysphoria and later underwent "racial reassignment surgery." Now Martin is a black man named Martin Wilkinson, and he recruits Kelly to tell his story. Martin's relationship to the truth is flexible, and there's potentially a lot of money to be made. Not every plot twist is believable, but that seems appropriate-although set in the present day, the book is also a foray to the edge of possibility. Martin's goal of spinning racial reassignment into a global enterprise is half business plan and half pipe dream, but for Martin and his partners, the future is now. Your Face in Mine (note the slipperiness of the title: who's who here?) takes readers on a zesty, twisty, sometimes uncomfortable ride. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

In this debut novel from a Pushcart and PEN/O. Henry Prize winner, Kelly Thorndike moves back to his hometown of Baltimore and is shortly thereafter introduced to an African American man named Martin who claims to be a friend from high school. But the Martin whom Kelly knew was a white, Jewish teenager. Martin eventually reveals that he had "racial reassignment surgery," which included the alteration of his hair, skin, and general physiognomy to allow him to pass as black. He wants Kelly to cowrite a book with him about his experience, which is only the beginning of a journey of discovery. The narrative ponders the right to choose one's identity-and it does so immaculately and in a forthcoming manner. -VERDICT In this imaginative novel, the author deftly ponders why anyone would choose to usurp his or her past. There are a number of twists along the way, with the ending a particular surprise. This will appeal especially to those who love literary fiction with a thriller's edge. [See Prepub Alert, 3/15/14.]-Ashanti White, Yelm, WA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof*** Copyright © 2014 by Jess Row 1. It doesn't seem possible, even now, that it could begin the way it begins, in the blank light of a Sunday afternoon in February, crossing the park- ing lot at the Mondawmin Mall on the way to Lee's Asian Grocery, my jacket in my hand, because it's warm, the sudden, bleary, half-withheld breath of spring one gets in late winter in Baltimore, and a black man comes from the opposite direction, alone, my age or younger, still bun- dled in a black lambswool coat with the hood up, and as he draws nearer I feel an unmistakable shock of recognition. Even with the hood, that elected shade, that halo of shadow. I don't know whether to call it a certain place above the bridge of the nose and between the eyes, or per- haps something about the shape of the nose itself, or the way he carries it. Or the exact way his lips meet. Or the mild inquisitive look in his eyes that changes as I come closer to something unreadable, something close to surprise. I am looking into the face of a black man, and I'll be utterly honest, unsurprisingly honest: I don't know so many black men well enough that I would feel such a strong pull, such a decisive cer- tainty. I know this guy, I'm thinking, yet I'm sure I've never seen this face before. Who goes around looking for ghost eyes, for pleading looks of remembrance, in the faces of strangers? Not me. He's coming closer, and I'm running through all my past at a furious clip, riff ling frantically the index cards of my memory for a forgotten slight, a stray remark, a door slammed in a black man's face, a braying car horn behind me on 83 South. He has his eyes trained on me with a faint smile, a smile that dips at the left corner, and says, Kelly. I'll bet you're wondering why I know your name. I'm sorry, I say. Do I know you? Kelly, he says, pursing his lips, it's Martin. We're alone, in a field of cracked asphalt, dotted here and there with sprays of tenacious weeds, a mostly abandoned shopping plaza missing its anchor tenant. I would never have come here but for Lee's being the closest Chinese grocery to my apartment, an emergency stop for days when I unexpectedly run out of tree-ear fungus or Shaoxing wine or shallots or tapioca starch. Yes, we're in Baltimore; yes, I once lived here, grew up here; but because Baltimore is not just one feeble city but many, and Mondawmin is, to be as honest as I have to be, on the black side of town, in the course of my predictable life, I might as well be on the surface of the moon. As a child I imagined there were hidden places-- the tangle of bushes dividing the north and south lanes of the freeway, the fenced-in, overgrown side yard on the far side of our elderly neigh- bor's house--that held gaps, portholes, in the fabric of the world, and if I crawled into one of them I would become one of the disappeared chil- dren whose faces appeared on circulars and milk cartons and Girl Scout cookie boxes, whose cold bodies were orbiting earth as we spoke, and every so often bumped into the Space Shuttle and slid off, unbeknownst to the astronauts inside. How was I supposed to know that I would only have to cross town to find my own gap, my own way into the beyond? I cross my arms protectively in front of my chest, and say, I know you are. You do? Martin, I say, I need an explanation. 2. We cross the parking lot together, Martin, the black man who used to be Martin, ducked slightly behind my right shoulder, f lickering in and out of my peripheral vision. Somehow I'm still possessed of enough of my faculties to remember to grab a shopping cart. The sliding door creaks on an unoiled runner, and we breathe in the comforting sting of Asian markets everywhere--dried scallops and mushrooms, wilting choi sum , f ish guts in a bucket behind the seafood counter. Mr. Lee looks up at me over yesterday's Apple Daily --when did they start get- ting the Hong Kong papers?--and says, you're too late, the cha siu bao are all sold out. It's okay, I say. I need to lose weight anyway. Yeah, says his daughter, stacking napa cabbages on newspaper in a shopping cart. You're too fat. Lee gives her a dour Confucian look. Little number three, he says, that's enough out of you. And then, turning to me: is the black man with you? He doesn't speak Chinese, too, does he? Martin has halted by the soy milk case, reading the labels intently. Yes, I say. Yes, he's with me. And no, he doesn't. Tell him we don't have candy bars or potato chips. They always ask. I give him a noncommittal nod. My wife was Chinese, I say to Martin, making my way down aisle one, filling the cart with black tree fungus and Sichuan chilies and dried beans and tofu skin. I lived there for three years before I got my Ph.D. She taught me how to cook. My voice sounds bland, conversa- tional, informational: I've been stunned, that's the only way to explain it, stunned back into a certain strained normality. He follows every- thing I'm saying with lidded eyes and pursed lips, nodding to himself, as if it's exactly what I would have done, in his mind, as if he could have projected it all, with slight variations. Hold on. Your wife was ? You're not together? No, I say, no, she died. She and my daughter died. In a car accident. How long? I look at my watch. A year, I say, six months, three weeks, and two days. Mr. Lee, who has never before seen me speaking English, is pre- tending not to watch us, stealing interested glances over a full-page pic- ture of Maggie Cheung. I was in Shanghai and Hangzhou once, Martin says. Only brief ly, on business. Loved it. Loved the energy. Wish I could have stayed longer. He reaches up and pulls the hood away from his forehead. His hair, a black man's hair, of course, razored close to the scalp, with neat lines at the temples and the nape of the neck. The look of a man who's close friends with his barber. I can't help thinking of my own scraggling beard, and the last time I tried to crop it into a new shape, how it looked, as Meimei used to put it, half goat-eaten . Fullness of time, I can't help thinking. The phrase just won't leave my mind. Fullness of time . You know, he says. You're a brave man, Kelly. I think I'd have run away screaming. His voice is different. It is, thoroughly, unmistakably, a black man's voice, declarative, deep, warm, with a faint twang in the nasal consonants. It's just a couple of operations, he says. And some skin treatments. In the right hands, no big thing at all. That is to say, it won't be. When it becomes more common. Does it, does it--I'm f lailing here--does it have a name? What you've done? If it had a name, he says, what would that change, exactly? Would it be more acceptable to you? Would it be a thing people do? Would it have a category unto itself ? He laughs. I'm just playing with you, he says. You should see the look on your face. Kelly, of course it has a name. What do you think it would be called? Racial reassignment. We've stopped at the end of the dried goods aisle, the aisle of staples, and I'm teetering on the edge of the snacks aisle: lychee gummies, shrimp chips, dried squid, mango slices in foil, and three or four rows of Pocky, that bizarre Japanese name for pretzel sticks dipped in coat- ings of one or another artificially f lavored candy. Pocky comes in cigarette-sized packs with flip-top lids, and there is, in addition to strawberry, raspberry, and vanilla, Men's Pocky, plain chocolate, in a distinguished pine-green. It's never been clear to me whether this is an elaborate inside joke on the part of the manufacturer or a sincere mes- sage to the consumer. There is Men's Pocky, but not Women's Pocky. Am I supposed to be reassured, not having to make a choice? Racial reassignment surgery . Yeah, of course, surgery. But it's more than that. It's a long process. Meaning, I have to say--I strain to form the words--meaning you were always black. Like a sex change. Inside you always felt black. Damn, he says. You get right to the point, don't you? I don't remem- ber you being this direct, Kelly. Martin, I say, without quite being able to look at him--I cast my eyes up to the stained ceiling tile, the f luorescent panel lamps dotted with dead flies--we're not going to see each other again, are we? Isn't that the point? You wanted a new life. I'm certainly not going to intrude. Anyone can get a new life, he says. It's easy to fall off the map. I don't recall you ever trying to track me down. And all of you guys left, anyway. Am I just repeating the obvious here? I never thought I'd see you back in Baltimore. You get hired by Hopkins? No, I say. I'm not an academic. Not anymore. I work in public radio. No kidding? You mean, what is it, 91.1? The Hopkins station? No, the other one. WBCC. 107.3. Oh, yeah. Right. Way up at the top of the dial. I always wondered why there were two. Are you a listener? Heck no, he says. I listen to XM. No offense, I like the news some- times, but not all that turtleneck-sweater, mandolin, Lake Wobegon stuff. Not my thing. Yeah. I understand. You do? You understand? I read the surveys, runs through my mind, that's my job, I know the de- mographics. I could break down our audience into the single percentiles. Look, I say, I mean, it's not a secret. It's a problem . We think about it every day. We want to be a station for the whole city, you know, Balti- more , and we're just not. It's an issue. I'm trying, believe me. He whistles through his teeth. Maybe you're the man for me, he says. I need somebody to help me with this project. This idea I have. A communicator . He takes a slim billfold from his front pocket--the long, old-fashioned kind, meant to fit in a blazer--and takes out a glossy or- ange business card. Martin Wilkinson, Orchid Imports LLC. You changed your name. You know many brothers named Martin Lipkin? It's just one in a long list of inconceivable things I've had to conceive of in the last fifteen minutes, so I nod nonchalantly. And what, you sell orchids? No, no. Electronics. My wife came up with the name. Okay, I say, nodding again, a yes-man. So you'll email me? Can I buy you lunch? Is that really a good idea? I ask him. I mean, I know you. Aren't I kind of a liability? A piece of personal history? I trust you, he says, staring at me, boxing me in, so that I'm forced to look straight at his coffee-colored pupils--just the same as before, at least as far as I remember. Listen, he says, we can act like this never happened. If that's what you want. Either way, you'll respect my pri- vacy. I know that much. So I'm just asking: you want to come with me a little further down this road, Kelly? You curious? You want the whole story? Keeping my head straight, our eyes level, in this Vulcan-mind-meld game he seems to want to play, I conduct the briefest possible mental inventory of my life: an empty apartment; an enormous, shockingly ex- pensive storage unit out in Towson, filled with boxes I'll never open; a job, if you can call it a job; a few friends, widely spaced; a 500-page manuscript on two dead poets, gathering dust in its library binding up in Cambridge; a wall of books in five languages I never want to read again. Yes, I say, yes, I'll have lunch with you, Martin. See you then. He pulls his hood back up, hunches his shoulders, and disappears through the door, back into the tepid weather, the diffident sunshine, the blank, anonymous world that seems almost to have cre- ated him. Excerpted from Your Face in Mine by Jess Row All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.