LONGLISTED FOR THE PEN/OPEN BOOK AWARD
“Compellingly complex…Expands the future of the immigrant novel even as it holds us in uneasy thrall to the past.” – Gish Jen, New York Times Book Review
Combining the emotional resonance of Home Fire with the ambition and innovation of Asymmetry, a lyrical and thought-provoking debut novel that explores the complex web of grief, memory, time, physics, history, and selfhood in the immigrant experience, and the complicated bond between daughters and mothers.
On the night of June Fourth, a woman gives birth in a Beijing hospital alone. Thus begins the unraveling of Su Lan, a brilliant physicist who until this moment has successfully erased her past, fighting what she calls the mind’s arrow of time.
When Su Lan dies unexpectedly seventeen years later, it is her daughter Liya who inherits the silences and contradictions of her life. Liya, who grew up in America, takes her mother’s ashes to China—to her, an unknown country. In a territory inhabited by the ghosts of the living and the dead, Liya’s memories are joined by those of two others: Zhu Wen, the woman last to know Su Lan before she left China, and Yongzong, the father Liya has never known. In this way a portrait of Su Lan emerges: an ambitious scientist, an ambivalent mother, and a woman whose relationship to her own past shapes and ultimately unmakes Liya’s own sense of displacement.
A story of migrations literal and emotional, spanning time, space and class, Little Gods is a sharp yet expansive exploration of the aftermath of unfulfilled dreams, an immigrant story in negative that grapples with our tenuous connections to memory, history, and self.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Meng Jin’s debut novel is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. The story gets going when Liya’s brilliant, difficult mother, Su Lan, dies, leaving her daughter a trail of clues about the family’s flight from China to the States—and about her descent from celebrated physicist to dejected low-level academic. Jin weaves together a story that incorporates everything from the deadly 1989 Tiananmen Square protests to ancient philosophy. There’s a lot to unpack, but her remarkable shifts between eras and perspectives make every page a thrilling surprise; she can move with ease from a passage of jaw-dropping beauty to a scene so starkly descriptive it’s downright journalistic. Narrated in turn by Liya, Su Lan, and other key characters, Little Gods is a searing family drama that unfolds as a series of memories and traces China’s explosive growth and changing profile. It’s a startling, devastating, and enthralling read that makes us excited to see what Jin writes next!
Jin's stunning debut follows 17-year-old Liya on her journey to China with the ashes of her recently deceased mother, a mysterious and mercurial woman whom Liya both loved and resented. Su Lan, her mother, was a former physicist from China who died in America, where she had lived and worked for nearly two decades. Intertwined with Liya's grief-stricken quest is the voice of Zhu Wen, Su Lan's former neighbor in Shanghai, whose memory of Su Lan as a beautiful, charismatic, and fiercely brilliant physics student in a happy marriage to a handsome doctor does not square with the woman Liya knows. The third narrative strand belongs to Yongzong, Su Lan's husband and Liya's father, who has long lost touch with Su Lan and has never known Liya. Liya arrives in China with only her mother's last known address, in Shanghai, where Su Lan had once lived with Yongzong. On first meeting Zhu Wen there, Liya realizes just how little she knew about her mother. Liya then visits the small mountain village where her mother was raised, and goes to Beijing, where she finds out what happened during the night of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when she was born and Su Lan began to transform from a promising young student to a living ghost. Artfully composed and emotionally searing, Jin's debut about lost girls, bottomless ambition, and the myriad ways family members can hurt and betray one another is gripping from beginning to end. This is a beautiful, intensely moving debut.
DO NOT PURCHASE
This was a terrible book.!