The Dancing Girl and the Turtle


dancing girl
Book cover: The Dancing Girl & the Turtle

The Dancing Girl and the Turtle is my debut novel, published in April 2017 by Linen Press. It’s the first volume of The Shanghai Quartet: my four interlocking novels about Shanghai.

Here’s what The Dancing Girl and the Turtle is all about:

A rape. A war. A society where women are bought and sold but no one can speak of shame. Shanghai 1937. Violence throbs at the heart of The Dancing Girl and the Turtle.


Song Anyi leaves her home for Shanghai and freedom. On the road, Chinese soldiers rape her and leave Anyi for dead. The silence and shame she faces drive Anyi to self-harm and prostitution. From opium dens to high-class brothels, Anyi dances on the edge of destruction as China goes to war with Japan.

There is violence in this novel, just as there is violence in the lives of many women. Some of it is self-inflicted; very little is deserved. Anyi is the voice of every woman denied a place at the table and every girl whose shame led her to self-harm.

Behind the scenes

For some of you, this may be your first glimpse of Anyi and Old Shanghai. But if you are as addicted as I am to that raucous, no holds barred place, you may be hungry for more. In that case, you’ve come to the right place!

Many of the posts in my blog talk about the back story to The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. About the inspiration drawn from my own family, the music and the clothing, the servants and the city itself. But there’s also the darker side: war and self-harm and politics, too.

I didn’t make it all up. I put some serious legwork into research in order to bring Old Shanghai to life. Though I will say (and not just because I was once a lawyer): this is a work of fiction.

You can also read about the process of bringing The Dancing Girl and the Turtle from manuscript to bookthe book launch, author events and my most recent book blog tour.


So what did the critics think? Here’s the short version.

Cha: An Asian Literary Journal: “deeply disturbing”, “grippingly realistic” “engrossing outset for the next volume of the Shanghai Quartet”

Hong Kong Review of Books: “the brutally authentic struggles [and] the powerful message make this story vital”

South China Morning Post: “makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like light bondage”

Los Angeles Review of Books: “a remarkable character-driven debut”

Expatica: “The writing is exceptional”

Holland Times: “Kao’s prose is vivid and immediate”

Historical Novel Society: “a story I will go on thinking about for a good while”

Contemporary Small Press: “The human need for intimacy and understanding is apparent on every page”

Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang: “Karen Kao is a master of the Noir” “an ambitious, striking addition”

If you’d like to read in full all the reviews of The Dancing Girl and the Turtle, check out my brag page.

Buy The Dancing Girl and the Turtle

Now that I’ve whetted your appetite for more, you’ll want to know where to buy your copy of The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. Here are your options:

  • For readers in my hometown of Amsterdam: Boekhandel van Rossum.
  • For folks anywhere in the Netherlands, contact me here.
  • You can order a copy directly from the publisher via the Linen Press webshop.
  • You can always special order my book from your favorite local bookstore.
  • Or, if you prefer to read on your Kindle or absolutely must buy online then here’s the link to my author page at and

Are you a member of a book club? Here are your questions. Invite me to meet with your group and I’ll tell you more about the why and the how of this novel.