Press

“In A Novelist’s World, You Choose Your Race” (New York Times, August 11th)

Vulture’s “Eight Books You Need To Read This August”

The New Yorker: August Books To Watch Out For

BookPage: Ten Best Books for August

Bustle: August 2014’s Best Books

Flavorwire: 10 Must Read Books for August

“Your Face in Mine more than fulfills the promise of [Jess Row's] first two books. It puts him on another level as an artist. He doesn’t shy away from the hard intellectual and moral questions his story raises, or from grainy philosophical dialogue, but he submerges these things in a narrative that burns with a steady flame. You turn the pages without being aware you are turning them…Comparing a young writer to other writers is, in the end, a chump’s game, but it’s hard not to do it. There’s some Jonathan Lethem in Mr. Row’s street-level awareness of culture, popular and otherwise. There’s some Saul Bellow in his needling intelligence. Your Face in Mine spins toward a somewhat outlandish conclusion, but its core of meaning retains its force. Necessity is a mother of invention, this novel declares, but so is uncut human desire. “How far in the future can it be,” Martin asks, “when people say, I don’t want to be me anymore?—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

Your Face in Mine is flat-out brilliant…Kelly is an astonishing character, tormented, compromised but self-aware enough to know it, cynical but without self-deceit…in the interstices of the action, in the darkness and confusion of [a] conflicted consciousness, Row finds his most radical honesty and insight.” —David Ulin, Los Angeles Times

“In his first novel Row drives into this inflammatory subject head-on with thought-provoking bravado and the sort of guts that make you fall in love with the versatility and power of fiction all over again.” —Connie Ogle, Miami Herald

Jess Row sees the future in Your Face in Mine—a provocative and exhiliratingly bold examination of race in America.” —Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair

Row’s brilliant new novel, Your Face in Mine, pursues a bold and roomy premise: What if you could change your race? Not superficially, with makeup and a wig, but by cosmetic surgery? This book feels new not only because it inverts and biologizes racial passing, but also because it takes seriously the last few decades of identity politics. In Roth’s The Human Stain and Anatole Broyard’s Kafka Was the Rage, race is merely a roadblock to a true, American self. In Your Face in Mine, race is the road, for black and white alike.” Bookforum

Your Face in Mine’s premise is headline-catching, but the subtlety and grace with which Row tells the story is even more remarkable. Before he ran into Martin, Kelly was living life as a complacent “Good White Person,” the kind who knows very few black people but “mention[s], at parties, that rates of incarceration for black males are six times the national average.” Drawn into Martin’s world, Kelly dives into the raw, the bleeding, and the not-even-close-to-postracial state of race in America. We book reviewers are fond of calling books ‘brave,’ but Your Face in Mine is genuinely courageous.” —Annalissa Quinn, NPR

Your Face in Mine owes something to classic stories of passing like The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, by James Weldon Johnson, and the 1931 satire Black No More, by George Schuyler, in which blacks rush to embrace a new scientific process to become white. But if Your Face in Mine has elements of the traditional passing novel, it doesn’t stay in that lane…Farah Jasmine Griffin, a professor of English and African-American Studies at Columbia University, calls Mr. Row’s book “a new take on race,” offering the unusual perspective of the white Kelly and the ex-white Martin meditating on racial identity and raising questions about the very meaning of race.” —Felicia R. Lee, The New York Times

“Your Face in Mine has ambition and scope, a concept that is creepy and provocative, and that makes it matter as a piece of literature. It’s a serious novel with serious ideas, and it’s good to see a young writer wrestling with race, poking at a beehive. It’s not a book to read lightly, and that may be the highest compliment that I can give it.” —Elisabeth Donnelly, Flavorwire

“In Martin’s cynical perversion of the American Dream, self-reinvention takes a back seat to the commodification of self-reinvention…[Your Face in Mine] delivers…sci-fi-ish frisson and subversiveness.” Boston Globe

A deeply intelligent and powerful book…virtually every page contains a clever insight, sharp sense of irony and humor, or moving emotion.” —Thomas Chatterton Williams, San Francisco Chronicle

“Your Face in Mine is a searing account of race in America today. It might be the best book I have read all year. It’s certainly the most thought-provoking. Run to the store, buy it, read it, and watch the future unfold in its image.” —Brian Hurley, Fiction Advocate

“Jess Row hasn’t just written a book to start debates, he’s written a book with enough substance and nuance to start really good ones.” Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Your Face in Mine shows signs of genius.” Buffalo News

“Jess Row’s bravura debut novel seethes with issues, plots and backstories…Row’s muscular prose and ­fecund ideas are the guiding force throughout. So much comes vigorously alive, from teenage bands to adult rebirths, from Kelly’s insecurities to Martin’s delusions. On the strength of this, Row is now one to watch, a writer with talent as audacious as his subject matter.” The National (Abu Dhabi)

The plot is dazzling; the moral issues posed by racial reassignment are disturbing.  Fortunately, the novel does not avoid the ethical issues or the troubling possibility that what Your Face in Mine presents as fiction will too soon become fact, a genuine option for mankind in the future. We’ve all learned that sexuality is fluid; soon that may be true of race.  Read the book and give Jess Row the credit he deserves.” Counterpunch

The brilliance of the novel’s central idea is in its combination of Swiftian grotesquery and creepy plausibility…The conceit of the biographer/subject relationship recalls Dostoevsky, in the sense that a book like The Brothers Karamazov presents a kind of moral dialectic, a set of ideas embodied and advanced by its characters.” Slate

Jess Row was handed the rules of engagement for a clever, white, literary author like all the rest; he just doesn’t give a shit…he should be applauded.” Baltimore City Paper

“Row writes impressive, controlled prose, building scenes and characters with a sure hand, and the novel’s plot proceeds rapidly through lies told, secrets revealed and trusts broken. All of that makes for an engrossing…emotionally affecting read.” Haaretz (Israel)

“It’s when Row plumbs the relationship between Kelly and Martin that the novel sings with a unique kind of yearning—for the selfish piety of youth, for the parents they did and didn’t have—and that’s a powerful magic. But this is a story finally about alienation, and Row finds that in the final pages, to great, sad success.” —Tod Goldberg, Las Vegas Weekly

“They say that people change, but in the case of Kelly’s close high school friend whom he hasn’t seen in nearly two decades, it’s the type of change nobody would have seen coming. Row’s tale is one that people will be discussing, and it demonstrates why he is one of the most innovative storytellers out there.” —Jason Diamond, Flovorwire

“Race is a charged subject few white male writers would dare take on, and yet Row does so with a captivating premise, brilliantly executed. Your Face in Mine is, above all, brave and thought-provoking.” Bustle

“Your Face in Mine is…a thought-provoking exploration of identity and the ways it is both formed by the self and projected into the world.” —AskMen

“Your Face in Mine begs the question: are we seeing an internalization of the lessons learned from New Wave science fiction? Are the devices popularized by one literary movement decades ago now part of the toolbox of a number of wise writers, even as some of the other elements are jettisoned? As a reader who enjoys the unconventional, I’m happy to see science fictional ideas show up [in this] unexpected place, on a scale both massive and subtle.” —Tobias Carroll, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

Your Face in Mine might be poised to cause a stir, but not, I hope, for mere controversy. Of equal importance is the arrival of Jess Row as a novelist. His book is written in lush, confident prose, has the pulse of a thriller, the heart of an American epic, and the burning mind of speculative fiction. Your Face in Mine deftly explores some hefty philosophical subjects – identity, self and transformation, to name a few – without sacrificing the pace or prose of the storytelling. Strongly recommended.” —The Shelf Life

“Possibly inspired by the ageless Black Like Me, Jess Row tells the story of Kelly Thorndike, a native Baltimorean who moves back to his hometown and discovers that an old friend has gotten surgery to change his race. At one time a skinny, white, Jewish man, Martin is now African-American, and he’s kept his new identity secret from his friends and family. Martin tells Kelly he wants to come clean, and the two become mired in a fractious, thought-provoking controversy.” The Millions, “Most Anticipated: The Great Second Half Book Preview 2014″

“The essayist and short-story writer’s first novel takes the Soul Man premise to risky extremes, political and artistic—you squirm and think along the way.” New York, “Six Books To Read This Summer”

“If a writer should follow Ernest Hemingway’s well-known dictum to write what he knows, then first-time novelist Jess Row just might be in the wrong business. Case in point? In his highly regarded collection of short stories, The Train to Lo Wu, Row, who taught English for two years in Hong Kong, wrote audaciously and movingly from the point of view of Chinese characters. And, now, in his imaginative and thought-provoking first novel, Your Face in Mine, Row writes about a white man named Martin Lipkin who has “racial reassignment surgery” and becomes a black entrepreneur named Martin Wilkinson. In the process, Martin’s predicament allows Row to explore the perplexing, emotionally and politically charged issues of black and white identity.” —Bookpage

“In this imaginative novel, the author deftly wonders why anyone would choose to usurp his or her past…Your Face in Mine ponders the right to choose one’s identity—and it does so immaculately and in a forthcoming manner. ” —Library Journal (starred review)

Jess Row has outdone himself in a first novel that offers great quantities of food for thought and discussion…Plunging deeper than common notions of the self and racial distinctions, Your Face in Mine presents wholly credible, if not thoroughly trustworthy, characters and complicated circumstances that will inspire serious reflection.” —Donna Chavez, Booklist (starred review)

This furiously smart first novel opens up difficult conversations about race and identity…Your Face in Mine (note the slipperiness of the title: who’s who here?) takes readers on a zesty, twisty, sometimes uncomfortable ride.” —Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

 

On Nobody Ever Gets Lost:

Bookforum

“Nobody Ever Gets Lost is that rare work which can boast both focus and scope. It is a powerful book, raw and shrewd and brave. If the categorical assertion of the title is true, it must be because the world only ever moves in one direction: forward. Visions of purity—ethnic, religious, national, or other—are always reactionary and will always fail. Restoration of the past is impossible, and calling for it merely exposes the weak soul’s fear of the future.”

Corduroy Books

“I read half of this book with my back on the ground and my feet up on the couch and felt fundamentally shifted somehow on finishing the book, and the shift had primarily to do with feeling like I’d been slowed. This gets weird and dicey quickly, because what I’m talking about is the magic way stories can actually make us better people. Do stories owe us that? That’s a debate I don’t think matters here. But for sure what good stories have to do, on some level, is offer a new view to our usual lives, however that happens. And I’d like to here push Nobody Ever Gets Lost as one of those hugely offering books, one of those which throw open doors you don’t even know you need opened.”

Library Journal

“Ranging from provocative to naïve, the characters in this richly nuanced story collection struggle with questions of faith and identity and desperately attempt to locate their place in the post-9/11 world.”

NewPages

“As a collection, Nobody Ever Gets Lost is, simply put, stunning. Pick it up, enjoy it, spread the word. This is writing to be delighted by and a writer to look for more of.”

Fiction Writers Review

“The details of these stories are indelible, and their revelations often leave the reader slightly breathless.”

Palm Springs Desert Sun

“One of the many things I admire about Row’s work is his willingness to ask questions when there are no sure answers to be found.”

Sycamore Review

“Jess Row has a remarkable ability to evoke empathy in the reader for his characters, to spark vivid connection between ourselves and these raw, whole, complicated lives on the page. To put it simply, his work caused me to think about the world and the people around me in a new way. It may be true that when beginning a Jess Row story you don’t know what to expect – you can’t typecast where it will take place or the characters it will center around – but you can expect that his stories will challenge you, move you, and stay with you long after you have turned the final page.”

Hipster Book Club

“[Nobody Ever Gets Lost] explores universal themes of grief and alienation…touching and tragic.”

NewCity Lit

“In seven psychologically nuanced stories spanning from rural Thailand to the South Bronx, Row tackles the intersection between violence and belief: where does extremism come from? What do abstract convictions look like when you make them concrete?”

The Rumpus

“In these daring stories, Row inhabits seven individuals trying to make sense of a world shaken by September 11th. Spanning Southeast Asia and the United States, Row grapples with questions of identity, religion, and extremism, exploring how we manage (or fail) to co-exist in a post 9/11 world.”

Paper Trails (WNPR, Hartford, CT)

“This is a book of stories about the dangers of telling stories…I was very impressed by the seeming artlessness of Row’s style—that he created the effects he did without reaching for a literary toolbox of fancy metaphors.”

New Jersey Monthly:

“Throughout seven quiet but finely observed tales, characters of different ethnicities, ages and sensibilities rub up against fundamentalism, most of it religious, in the post 9/11 world…Nobody Ever Gets Lost confirms Jess Row’s sterling reputation.”

Granta interview (2/28/2010)

“I think what I’m most drawn to in writing about this subject is the way in which very small, intimate acts of violence (not even necessarily physical violence) often serve as a microcosm or incubator for the massive, cataclysmic violence we see all around us in the world.”

Ploughshares interview (5/7/2009)

“I had a lot of fun writing “Lives of the Saints,” actually. It didn’t feel like work. I love New York, but because I’m not from the city, I don’t take the setting for granted, as some writers do (by necessity). And these two young people are very close to my heart, misguided as they are. They have a great deal of courage; in some ways I wish I had that kind of courage. But not the naïvete that goes along with it. Working on this story was really a refuge from other things I was supposed to be doing; not that it wasn’t hard—writing any story is hard—but I didn’t notice it at the time.”

Up Front (from The New York Times Book Review, 9/9/2007)

“These stories are all about the aftermath of Sept. 11, sometimes in direct and sometimes in oblique ways. They’re bound together by a concern about the connection between intimate betrayals and misunderstandings and the abstractions that lead to violence. I’d like to write comic novels instead, but my work always tends to veer more toward the territory of mourning, in one way or another.”

BookFox interview (5/30/2007)

“From my own perspective as a Buddhist, I think that working as a fiction writer involves building models of karmic processes and watching how they play out.”

On The Train to Lo Wu:

Gotham Writers Workshop interview (2005)

“…it’s very important to me that whatever questions the story raises—about race and affirmative action, about the relationship between men from one society and women from another, about Zen practice—aren’t just left up in the air by the end. Sometimes that happens naturally; sometimes it takes a lot of effort to weave those issues into the story without sounding pedantic or interrupting the drama. Ultimately the encounter between these characters in this particular situation has to take precedence over everything else.”

“In these linked stories about Hong Kong Jess Row has been able to locate the very heart of modern spirituality in this most commercial of cities. Buddhist monks and nuns, proud lovers, failed painters, the haunted daughter of a suicidal mother, a philosopher–all of these people living on the edge have found their way to Hong Kong. The East and the West, sure–but also the sacred and the profane. The writing is surgical in the sense that an ancient Chinese butcher who had attained enlightenment could prepare various cuts without ever touching the meat; his knife passed effortlessly though the natural spaces, just as Row’s pen articulates even the strangest, most elusive feelings without distorting them. This is a debut that feels like a crowning achievement.”

— Edmund White

“In crystalline prose, Row animates intriguing characters and dramatizes subtle yet emblematic conflicts as he traces the vast cultural divides between America and Hong Kong…He neatly and devastatingly contrasts dueling visions of faith, art, love, and freedom.”

— Booklist

“From New York to Hong Kong, Jess Rows stories take us to worlds that are both familiar and strange. It is rare to find the spirit and mind combined so deftly as in these stories. This is a magnificent collection.”

— Charles Baxter

“In sharp, lucid prose, Row molds a landscape of human error and uncertainty, territory well-aligned with the eerie topography of his space-age city.”

— Publisher’s Weekly

“These seven short stories about Hong Kong people by a young American writer are not only subtle, skilful, and above all exceptionally thoughtful: They could well be the finest fiction ever to have appeared in English about the city. It’s no exaggeration to say that The Train to Lo Wu is comparable in many ways with James Joyce’s Dubliners, equally disillusioned stories about another city where things are not always what they seem.”

—Taipei Times

“Jess Row’s The Train to Lo Wu leaves me almost speechless…Many writers have managed to describe Hong Kong, but few have as a deft a touch with the Hong Kong people, real people, with the cadences of Hong Kong English, with the gestures, body language and internal contradictions of the people of this place…Row, who taught at Chinese University from 1997 to 1999, seems to have captured in this short time what it is about Hong Kong that makes this city so frustrating, yet also so hard for so many of us to leave.”

—The Asian Review of Books

“Over and over, these beautifully crafted stories drew me in with their quietly persuasive voices, their meditative detail, and their subtly heart-rending plots. An auspicious debut from a talent set to endure.”

— Peter Ho Davies

“An impressive debut from an admirably protean storyteller…Row’s characters are a mixed bunch, but all are effortlessly convincing, and he handles gritty suspense quite as well as he does the problems of lovers. This Whiting Award-winning author has a very bright future.”

— Kirkus Reviews

“Row’s stories are subtle…and fascinating.”

— Entertainment Weekly

“Jess Row writes with elegance and freshness in prose that sounds a depth of feeling. These stories are poems in themselves, haunting in their clarity and sympathies. They achieve a kind of stillness that seems appropriate for their Chinese setting. I can hardly imagine a more forceful or memorable debut.”

— Jay Parini

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