Short summary: Ren is an orphan and because he is missing a hand, it is unlikely a family will adopt him. When a man who claims to be Ren's long lost brother appears, he introduces Ren into a completely different world filled with scam artists and grave diggers. Is this the family Ren has always longed for?
The group's verdict: Everyone really enjoyed the more realistic beginning, but only those of us with a healthy appreciation for the absurd (such as myself) really liked it by the end. I personally loved the character of Dolly, a dim-witted thug who is "raised from the dead" and becomes Ren's friend and champion. It is partly through him (and the excellent landlady Mrs. Sands) that Ren reevaluates the meaning of family, an important theme in the novel.
Up next: Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min