The world, firsthand.

Deca, writers, journalists, collective, writing, journalism, digital longform, Kindle, cooperative, global, international, stories, narrative, Rania Abouzeid, Elizabeth Dickinson, Sonia Faleiro, Stephan Faris, McKenzie Funk, Vanessa Gezari, Marc Herman, Mara Hvistendahl, Delphine Schrank, and Tom Zoellner.

At age 22, Diana O’Brien left a small island community on Canada’s Pacific Coast and moved to China to work as a model. Twelve days later, she was stabbed in a Shanghai stairwell. The actions of both police investigators and O'Brien's Chinese modeling agent soon aroused suspicion as her family sought answers from China's opaque legal system. Ultimately, their quest would put them face to face with her accused killer.

At once a page-turning murder mystery and a work of deep investigation, And The City Swallowed Them is a true crime nonfiction story based on dozens of interviews with investigators, models, and both the victim's and the convicted murderer's families. The short book moves from Shanghai's back alleys to the seedy underbelly of high fashion, where young models travel alone to strange cities, often with falsified work papers, and sleep ten to an apartment between cover shoots. Set against the backdrop of Shanghai's explosive urbanization, the work also explores the world of China's liudong renkou, or floating population, where the hopes of newcomers from poor villages often turn to dust—leading some to horribly desperate acts.

The debut digital title from the writers cooperative Deca, And The City Swallowed Them overturns assumptions about both China’s feared justice system, where the conviction rate for criminals is 99.9 percent, and the glamorous world of international modeling. More than a murder tale, And The City Swallowed Them lays bare the powerful forces that send two families on a collision course from distant sides of the Pacific.



“Mara Hvistendahl is a delightful writer: witty, engaging, and acute.” —Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO, New America Foundation

“Hvistendahl writes beautifully, with an eye for detail but also the big picture. She has a fierce intelligence but, more important, a fierce intellectual independence; she writes with a hard edge but no venom—rather, a cool and hard passion.” —Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics

“This extraordinary debut from Mara Hvistendahl...brims with bold judgments that shed light on a culturally sensitive issue. A definitive text.” Publishers Weekly, starred review of Hvistendahl’s book Unnatural Selection (2011)

“[Unnatural Selection] reads like a great historical detective story, and it’s written with the sense of moral urgency that usually accompanies the revelation of some enormous crime.” —Ross Douthat, The New York Times

“Massively well-documented.... Engrossing.... [Hvistendahl] has not only done her research but has also carried out extensive investigative journalism in several countries.” —Elaine Showalter, The Washington Post, on Unnatural Selection


Mara Hvistendahl is an award-winning author and journalist and a founding member of the writers cooperative Deca. A contributing editor and writer for Science magazine, she has also written for Harper’s, The Atlantic, Scientific American, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Popular Science, Foreign Policy, and other publications. Her first book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Pulitzer Prize. She has been featured as a radio and television commentator on MSNBC, the BBC, the CBC, PRI’s Marketplace, NPR’s Morning Edition, and elsewhere. She lives with her family in Shanghai.

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