She was a banker of sorts, and something else as well. She was what the Chinese call a shetou, or snakehead, a kind of immigration broker who charges steep fees to smuggle people out of China and into other countries. She had pioneered the China-to-Chinatown route in the early 1980s, and from her humble shop on East Broadway she had developed a reputation as one of the most reliable – and successful – snakeheads on the planet.

Chapter One, Page 21

In a nutshell


In this thrilling investigative journalism piece, Patrick Radden Keefe takes true real life events and turns them into what reads as a novel. This story documents the rise and fall of surprising crime boss Sister Ping, who from a tiny shop in New York’s Chinatown, managed a multimillion-dollar human-smuggling ring. Beyond Sister Ping, the Snakehead is a portrait of a generation of undocumented immigrants and the intricate underground economy that simultaneously sustains and exploits them.

Book Club Notes


This book excels in turning reporting into expert storytelling. It’s well written, educational, suspenseful and eye opening. There wasn’t one story in the book that I was familiar with and the topic isn’t one that I have previously taken an interest in but it’s delivered so well that you don’t need either to enjoy it.

Read If


You love learning more about the world, enjoy investigative journalism told in a story format or have an interest in Chinese migration to America.



Storyline – 10 /10
Writing – 10/10
Likeability – 10/10
Purpose – 5/10
Shareability – 8/10
9.0Overall Score
A note on our book ratings

Storyline: How good is the storyline? Is it believable and complex or does it make you shake your head in its ridiculousness?

Writing: How well written is the book? Do you find yourself wowed by the writing or unimpressed?

Likeability: Are the characters likeable, relatable, imparting something of value?

Purpose: Is there a clear purpose to the story being shared or is it better suited as a personal project for a family keepsake?

Shareability: How likely are you to share the book?

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