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Book Review: Larry’s Kidney

41ASI-nH6+L._SL160_By Daniel Asa Rose
William Morrow ©2009 | Hardcover 320pgs

What do a knock-off Cartier watch, a mail order bride and a black market kidney have in common? They are just three of the things that Daniel Asa Rose works to help his cousin, Larry, procure during their trip to China. 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 (what a mouthful!) is the journalist’s real-life account of the lengths the pair go to in order save Larry from kidney failure.

Their odyssey to the Far East begins with Larry’s surprise phone call to Dan, bluntly explaining that he’s at death’s door due to the diabetes that has destroyed his kidneys, and that he needs Dan to travel with him to China and use his journalism contacts to find him a not-so-legal new kidney. The transplant waiting list in the U.S. is almost a decade long, and Larry no longer has the luxury of time. Dan tries futilely to argue that it’s been 25 years since he traveled to China as a reporter and has no contacts there, yet he’s soon hustling up a magazine assignment to pay for his travel expenses and hopping a plane to Beijing.

Dan arrives at Larry’s discount hotel, and is shocked at his cousin’s frail appearance. The ravaged kidneys and brutal dialysis routine have taken a heavy toll on his body. Capitalizing on his cousin’s sympathy, Larry seizes the moment to drop another bombshell: he’s getting married. He further explains that he met a lovely woman on-line, and plans to use his time in China to get to know her better. “Doesn’t a twofer sound like a better deal? Get a kidney and throw in a bride for free.” Larry then introduces Mary, whom Dan has embarrassingly mistaken for the hotel cleaning lady. Mary may have fudged her age, weight and grasp of English in her on-line profile, but Larry is still charmed by her.

Nonplussed by the recent turn of events, Dan decides to put his personal feelings aside and focus on saving Larry’s life. A chance meeting with an medical industry executive puts him in contact with a highly placed surgeon, and they are soon racing to the city of Shi, a few hours outside Beijing, to prep for surgery. The men reach the hospital, bedecked in counterfeit Cartier bling, only to learn that Larry will have to wait several weeks for the surgery. A large portion of the book chronicles their time waiting for the kidney to arrive, and the narration can drag on a bit, though the reader does begin to sympathize with Larry’s impatience and frustration.

Dan’s recounting of the good people of China’s use of the English language, while not exactly politically correct, makes for some humorous verbal exchanges. When seriously discussing Larry’s condition, Cherry, the chipper hospital translator assures: “Larry a fighter! He will punch butt all over town.” Cherry’s assertion is put to the test when the healthy kidney is finally delivered, fresh from a recently executed (non-political) prisoner. Dan, and the prodigal girl-friend Mary, are ecstatic at the news. But the impending surgery turns Larry morose, and he warns: “…even if I come out of it and by some miracle it’s a success, I still reserve the right to kill my self.”

Overall, Larry’s Kidney is a funny, heart-warming story about a very serious subject. Dan, like the reader, becomes truly endeared to his cousin Larry, and his quirky personality equal parts charming and mortifying. He is grateful that fate has taken them to China, where the kind people there skirt the law and go out on a limb for a Westerner in need. Mostly, Dan is thankful for Larry’s second chance at life. Though no one knows what the future may bring, it’s comforting to think that Larry might still be around to “punch butt” and take names.

If you liked this title, you might also like: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

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