by Madame X | 2/19/2014
" The subject of LARRY'S KIDNEY is simple and nearly the entire plot of the book is described in the extended title. The book is a memoir, describing how the author, Dan, was convinced to accompany his cousin Larry to China to obtain an illegal organ transplant and meet his mail-order bride, Mary. Dan is not close to Larry, because Dan comes from a family of wealthy elites and Larry, by a stroke of ill-luck, is a first cousin who was raised without the benefits of money and education. Dan calls Larry a "friendly family pornographer-type" and over the course of the novel the reader discovers that Larry is a scumbag who enjoys airing his many repulsive opinions, like his attitude about the source of donor organs in China ("This non-prisoner needs a kidney. Execute someone of my blood type!"), or his decision as a professor at a state college in Miami to accept sexual favors in return for good grades (he calls it "Private Tutoring" and sneers contemptuously about one student not quite pretty enough to qualify: "Very light-skinned but still not my type.")
Dan, for his part, ignores Larry's impolitic ideas (when Larry says something horrible, Dan thinks it is "so against every principle of decency I've been brought up to believe, that all I can do is pretend it came from someone else...and change the topic"), while stereotyping and judging the Chinese. He makes fun of the Chinese when they speak poor English ("I will talk hard balls to you" instead of "Let's talk hardball"), sees a group of elderly Chinese couples waltzing in an open-air plaza, jumps to the conclusion that they are all former Red Guards and demands, aghast, "How can they be dancing, after all they've done, like Nazis doing a jig on the graves of their victims?"), and spends a lot of time with a pretty young tour guide, Jade, protesting all the while that he's a happily married man.
Dan isn't sure how to find a kidney for his cousin, and he only has a week to find a solid lead before the two will continue on to neighboring countries to continue their search. Dan finds out about a weekly Jewish prayer meeting and decides that he will attend it, then approach the local religious community to find out if anyone there has the right connections. Luckily enough, one of the other worshippers knows a well-regarded doctor who can circumvent the law, and is willing to call in a favor to get Larry into the hospital and at the front of the line for a kidney.
Dan installs Larry at the hospital, where the two wait for two months before an organ becomes available. During this time, Dan and Larry reminisce about family and childhood, Larry gets to know his mail-order bride better (he dumps her as soon as she has sex with him and starts looking for another), and Dan re-discovers China. Dan has occasional moral qualms about helping Larry to obtain an illegal kidney - but when it comes down to it and Dan understands that Larry will receive the kidney of a freshly executed prisoner, with no sure knowledge of what crime the man committed, he's committed to the operation too thoroughly to back down.
The operation is a success, and Dan and Larry return home to the states. Before they leave, Dan asks Larry to do him a favor in return for spending two months of his life helping Larry get an organ transplant - he asks Larry to call off an assassination he's ordered, planning to kill an uncle of theirs, Burton, in retaliation for insulting Larry's mother before her death. Larry has included Burton's murder in his will. But Larry refuses; his gratitude doesn't stretch that far.
I found LARRY'S KIDNEY incredibly offensive. Larry is a horrible person, and the book is predicated on the idea that someone else will die in order to prolong Larry's life. There's very little action so as readers we spend most of the book getting to know Larry and his many faults. Dan isn't much better - he recognizes the many murky moral issues surrounding the kidney transplant but he sets them aside, then proceeds to judge the Chinese people he meets very harshly, for real and imagined faults. The whole book is in poor taste. "