Named a Best Book of the Year by Time, The Washington Post, and Harper's Bazaar
“A tender, spiky family saga about love in all its mysterious incarnations.” —Lorrie Moore, author of A Gate at the Stairs and Birds of America
“Absolutely luminous . . . Weaves the transience of suburbia between the highs and lows of a family saga . . . Shocks, awes, and delights.” —Bryan Washington, author of Memorial
From the outside, the Chengs seem like so-called model immigrants. Once Patty landed a tech job near Dallas, she and Liang grew secure enough to have a second child, and to send for their first from his grandparents back in China. Isn’t this what they sacrificed so much for? But then little Annabel begins to sleepwalk at night, putting into motion a string of misunderstandings that not only threaten to set their community against them but force to the surface the secrets that have made them fear one another. How can a man make peace with the terrors of his past? How can a child regain trust in unconditional love? How can a family stop burying its history and forge a way through it, to a more honest intimacy?
Nights When Nothing Happened is gripping storytelling immersed in the crosscurrents that have reshaped the American landscape, from a prodigious new literary talent.
Han's ambitious if mixed debut follows the travails of a Chinese immigrant family living in the wealthy Dallas suburb of Plano. Patty Cheng is the breadwinner, whose long hours designing microchips pulls her away from her photographer husband, Liang, and their two children, Jack and Annabel, 11 and five. On Thanksgiving Day in 2003, a misunderstanding leads to an accusation by Annabel's best friend of a "bad touch" by Liang, which snowballs into more trouble for Liang involving the police after Liang and Jack neglect to set the record straight. The family's survival is dependent on a slippery sense of identity and difficulty in belonging in the Texas suburb, which permeate the narrative amid other unfortunately underdeveloped themes (duty vs. love, genteel racism). Most of the characterizations are convincing, though Annabel, even in close third-person narration, comes across as overly precocious ("If Annabel could understand what an overreaction was, she could understand what an overreaction wasn't"). Still, as Liang struggles through the consequences of the accusation, Han succeeds in drawing the portrait of a new American family while demonstrating a talent for creating a sense of place through the eyes of immigrants. The premise is intriguing, but Han doesn't quite stick the landing.