“Susan Choi…proves herself a natural—a writer whose intelligence and historical awareness effortlessly serve a breathtaking narrative ability. I couldn’t put American Woman down, and wanted when I finished it to do nothing but read it again.” —Joan Didion
A novel of impressive scope and complexity, “American Woman is a thoughtful, meditative interrogation of…history and politics, of power and racism, and finally, of radicalism.” (San Francisco Chronicle), perfect for readers who love Emma Cline’s novel, The Girls.
On the lam for an act of violence against the American government, 25-year-old Jenny Shimada agrees to care for three younger fugitives whom a shadowy figure from her former radical life has spirited out of California. One of them, the kidnapped granddaughter of a wealthy newspaper magnate in San Francisco, has become a national celebrity for embracing her captors' ideology and joining their revolutionary cell.
"A brilliant read...astonishing in its honesty and confidence,” (Denver Post) American Woman explores the psychology of the young radicals, the intensity of their isolated existence, and the paranoia and fear that undermine their ideals.
The Patty Hearst kidnapping was one of the defining incidents of the 1970s, but almost 30 years later, it has faded into legend, despite the many words written on the subject. Choi (The Foreign Student) makes the first stab at fictionalizing the drama, giving it grainy psychological depth and texture, while cleaving close to the true course of events. Instead of focusing on Patty (here named Pauline, the daughter of a wealthy newspaper publisher), Choi turns her attention on Jenny Shimada, a young Japanese-American woman, who, fleeing the Feds after she and her boyfriend orchestrate the bombing of draft offices to protest the Vietnam War, agrees to help Pauline and her kidnappers. This protagonist is based on a real-life person, Wendy Yoshimura, who spent what's now called "the lost year" (1974, when Patty and her captors disappeared) with Patty and two of her kidnappers. In Choi's book, the four spend the time in a rented farmhouse in New York State, with Jenny running errands while Pauline and her "comrades" undergo physical training for their fight against "the pigs" and halfheartedly write a book. While the unfolding drama Pauline's transformation, the bank robbery, Pauline and Jenny's cross-country trip is enthralling, it is Choi's skill at getting inside the heads of her protagonists that gives the novel its particular, unsettling appeal. What makes Jenny a radical? And what then leads her to wonder whether "perhaps they had been wrong to fight Power on its terms, instead of rejecting its terms utterly"? Sounding the depths of her conflicted protagonists, Choi takes an uncompromising look at issues of race, class, war and peace.