Deborah Moggach’s new novel comes with a letter to the reader explaining the different inspirations for the plot. One is the way in which Hoodia gordonii, a plant used as an appetite suppressant by Kalahari Bushmen, came to be registered by a pharmaceutical corporation and marketed as a diet remedy; another is the flourishing of mobile-phone charging booths in Ghana, where a booth owner might conceivably read other people’s texts. A third concerns Chinese people using American surrogates in the hope of acquiring a ‘human passport’: a child born on US soil. Lastly, closer to home, are the travails of a lonely sixty-something who hopes she isn’t too old to find love.
That’s quite a challenging set of sources, but over the next 300 pages Moggach succeeds in making her story lines converge and connect, sometimes through imaginative plotting and sleight of hand, at other times with a bit of brute force and a dollop of chutzpah.
The different plot lines are marshalled right away. In Beijing we meet Wang Lei and Li Jing, whose hopes