The Crocodile and the Crane

Finalist – 2008 USA Best Books Award

Practitioners of a secret healing art that bestows immortality and more, Sanfeng and Zetian are brother and sister and have lived together in China for more than 3000 years.

Now, in the near future, they face an enemy they recognize from their childhood, a terrifying disease that left them orphaned and alone in the world. The disease kills quickly and without mercy—victims die grimacing grotesquely—and as it spreads, it brings the siblings to the edge of apocalypse and pits them against each other in a battle for the world.

They are joined in their global struggle by a famous American selfhelp guru, a naïve but smart young publishing executive, a bitter Australian cop, and a beautiful Indonesian nurse with a secret the whole world wants to steal from her.

This thrilling race against time offers a smorgasbord of Chinese history, an epic love story, and the trenchant tale of one very special, intimate, and gifted family. It is a warning against the pitfalls and perils of the modern world, and a clarion call to heed the wisdom of the ancients in new and ever more relevant ways—before it is too late.

Arthur Rosenfeld has done it again! He is an acclaimed novelist and a martial arts master. Combining his writing talent with his deep knowledge of Asian culture, history and philosophy, and drawing from his experience of practicing martial arts for decades, he has introduced a new category: Martial Arts Fiction, into the American literary scene.

His first book in this category “The Cutting Season” was published last year and reviewed by the Gazette. It has been followed up by “The Crocodile and The Crane”.

“In this second book, I have explored 3,000 years of Chinese history, along with cutting-edge medical technology,” Rosenfeld said in an interview. “I did the same in the first book, but in a more simple and intimate package. The scope of this story – with its cast of characters, complexity, and message, demands a broader canvas and more intricate plotting.”

According to YMAA Publication Center, the publisher of both books, Rosenfeld managed to transplant an ancient, hugely popular, and authentic literary category into an American setting. Along with a thrilling story, his books also convey insights into genuine martial techniques and philosophies.

“In China, martial arts fiction is mainstream literature and does not suffer from the predictable constraints that crime fiction demands. The best in this category is the best of Chinese writing, offering philosophy, history, and action supported by trenchant themes and glorious prose,” Rosenfeld said.

In his latest thriller, Rosenfeld reaches back into ancient Chinese history and describes the fate of Gao the blacksmith, “who learned the secret of immortality through a special form of meditation.”

Gao passed on his secret to his two children. But he died at the hand of a high priest, being accused of bringing a terrible plague on the residents of a remote valley in China.

His two offspring escaped, carrying with them their father’s secret’s, and lived together in China for more than 3,000 years.. Now, in 2009, Gao’s son, Sanfeng, and his avaricious sister, Zetian, are discovering that the same deadly plague has returned, spreading around the world.

Sanfeng wants to save mankind, while his sister sees the plague as an opportunity to dominate the world. Rosenfeld introduces into the plot a famous American self-help guru Dalton Day, who has uncovered Gao’s secret and is determined to stop the plague.

The book revolves around the theme of finding a miracle cure to the plague that threatens the world with apocalypse.

“The martial arts have always been a path to enlightenment as well as practical study,” Rosenfeld said. “The best practitioners of this art, the masters, are the sages of our age, demonstrating an understanding of the way the world works, and the role of human being in it, that utterly transcend the ordinary.”

A recent episode, which received national TV exposure, seems to have demonstrated the practical application of what Rosenfeld learned from his master.

A man pulled up behind Rosenfeld at the Starbuck’s drive-through in Pompano Beach, Fla. Annoyed by waiting, in line, the driver started honking and yelling at him.

Rosenfeld, the master of martial arts, could have silenced the man with a chop of his hand. Instead, he paid for the man’s coffee. It started a chain reaction, and all day long, the person in the car ahead, paid for the coffee of the customer who followed him.

“It wasn’t an idea to pay anything forward, nor was it even a random act of kindness,” said Rosenfeld in a TV interview. “It was a change of consciousness. To take this negative and turn it into something positive.”

Responding to my question whether his martial arts fiction is a vehicle for entertainment or a teaching tool, Rosenfeld explained that he sees himself as a conduit for the wisdom of the ancient Daoists. “They had a very particular way of looking at things. They emphasized balance, harmony, and respect as well as sensitivity to nature.

“My role in society is to share this worldview in teaching and writing,” he said. “The novels offer what I hope are great characters and fun-stories, along with a philosophy that has the power to change the lives of others, as it had changed my own.”

According to a recent report in the Washington Post, the heirs of China’s New Elite are increasingly being schooled in ancient values of China. A professor from Zheijang University is quoted saying, “In China, if you are only rich, people will not respect you… You have to have a soul.”

It is a concept that seems to be the centerpiece of Rosenfeld’s new novels, his lectures and his teachings in martial arts classes. As I have suggested, when reviewing his first martial arts novel, “The Cutting Season”, a reading by Rosenfeld, in the framework of William & Mary’s Patrick Hayes Writer’s Festival, would provide students with an opportunity to look at life from a different angle.

-Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.

Frank Shatz

Virginia Gazette, January 19, 2008

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Can the world be saved by tai chi?

Oh, come on. Don’t roll your eyes. While that may be the premise of Arthur Rosenfeld’s “The Crocodile and the Crane”, you don’t have to be a martial artist or an acolyte of Eastern philosophy to enjoy this novel’s genre-bending mix of apocalyptic entertainments.

That’s because “The Crocodile and the Crane” is as much sci-fi as it is mystical fantasy. It calls to mind nothing so much as Damon Knight’s sadly underappreciated Why Do Birds, although with more narrative drive and less lofty literary ambitions than that 1992 end-of-the-world thriller.

Rosenfeld centers his story on Gao Sanfeng and Gao Zetian, brother and sister, who have found immortality through the practice of a secret form of qigong, a variety of tai chi, devised by their parents. More than 3,000 years ago, when they were still children, they watched as their father was sacrificed by the residents of Benpo, an overcrowded valley, where people were starting to die of a strange illness that dissolved their tissues and left their faces fixed in a grinning rictus.

In the present day, Sanfeng and Zetian, magnates of a multinational corporation based in Hong Kong, are rich beyond measure, although immortality has affected each of them in very different ways.

Sanfeng remains, behind the mask of wealth, a humble seeker of truth, while Zetian has embraced the allure of power and sexuality her unnatural vitality puts within reach. Yet they remain bound by their love for each other, their shared qigong practice, and their pledge to their long-dead father not to show it to anyone else.

Meanwhile, a new plague breaks out in Jakarta, its first victim the beloved young son of a beautiful single-mom nurse named Leili Musi. Soon all of Indonesia is in the grip of the illness, which dissolves tissues and contorts the faces of its victims into a gruesome grin. When word of the disease reaches Hong Kong, Sanfeng and Zetian recognize it immediately — the “Banpo Smile” has returned, as they always knew it would.

Leili, the only survivor in Indonesia, assists a French researcher who figures out the cause of the plague just before he, too, succumbs.

It’s not, as everyone else believes, a virus or germ or other pathogen, but instead the result of genetically programmed cell death, similar to the process by which people are programmed to age and die. The Banpo Smile is a Darwinian form of population control, designed to turn on when humanity reaches a tipping point of physical crowdedness and general degeneracy.

Soon outbreaks pop up in random parts of the world, and the human race stands on the brink of extinction.

Sanfeng and Zetian, of course, have a cure in the secret qigong practice that has protected them for millennia, but only one wishes to share it with what remains of humanity, selecting an American self-help author named Dalton Day as spokesman. The other, desiring only personal power, fights to keep the secret from the world.

Day, an expert on traditional Chinese philosophy traveling in Hong Kong on a book tour, is drawn into the cosmic drama as a sort of sorcerer’s apprentice.

Rosenfeld mingles all these elements into a thriller of uncommon inventiveness.

He balances mysticism with just the right amount of science; comic-book-style action and intrigue with a countervailing degree of character development and personal story; big ideas with just the right dollop of pulpy narrative energy. Through it all runs a deep appreciation of martial arts and Chinese lore, as well a keen knowledge of the changes wrought in China by industrialization and a modern consumerist economy.

Rosenfeld’s mastery of his story is so thorough that when a small group of people on a remote island begin to learn the qigong movements for the first time, even the most committed sluggard, accustomed to stretching no further than the potato chip bowl, may find a lump in his throat.

In the hands of the right filmmaker, “The Crocodile and the Crane” could be a terrific movie.

Chauncey Mabe

Books Editor, Sun Sentinel, November 19, 2007