A widow and her two grown children search for answers about the past in both America and China, in this insightful novel of an immigrant family’s journey.
After a lifetime of sacrifice, Ling’s husband has passed away. Though she has both a son and a daughter to comfort her, she has struggled to understand how they live their lives—Emily, an immigration lawyer in New York City, inexplicably refuses to have children; and Michael is unable to commit to a relationship or a career.
Michael yearns for a deeper connection to his family, but has never been able to find the courage to come out to them as gay. But when he finds a letter to his father from a long-ago friend—written mostly in Chinese except for a mysterious line at the end: Everything has been forgiven—he impulsively travels to China in the hopes of learning more about a man he never really knew. In this rapidly modernizing country, he begins to understand his father’s decisions—including one that reverberates into the present day. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Ling and Emily question their own choices, trying to forge a path that bends toward new loves and fresh beginnings.
From the author of Happy Family, named one of the top ten debuts of the year by Booklist, this is a powerfully honest novel that captures the complexity of the immigrant experience, exploring one family’s hidden history, unspoken hurts, and search for a place to call home.
Stars 2.5 - rounded
Stars 2.5 - rounded
I was excited to read this story, ostensibly about the immigrant experience as told through one family. Wendy Lee has used three narrative points of view: Ling, Michael and Emily, Chinese immigrants to the US with varying connections to both their current lives and their homeland.
After a bit of “dissatisfaction’ with his life, Michael discovers a letter sent to his father, and decides to visit China to learn more about his heritage and his father. His sister Emily is an immigration lawyer, with few ties to the homeland, and his mother’s memories and questions about her ability to honor traditions from her native country, her work ethic and even her closed-mouth keeping of secrets and strange choices made years ago has left the three slightly estranged. Yet, the tension because of untold stories and the conflicts that have resulted from the ‘old ways’ clashing with the new is a recurrent theme, and I don’t believe that I ever felt it develop or resolve.
While beautiful descriptions help to ground the scenes of China through Michael’s eyes: the frequent point of view flips and repeated switches from past to present in ever-increasing flashbacks seemed to hold the story hostage. There wasn’t a ton of forward motion for long passages, then we would circle the tension again before moving forward.
This is not a quick or easy read: while the prose is often poetic, the flatness of the characters and the stalled motion of the plot make it a rather weighty tome: not for everyone.
I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.