From the winner of the 2009 Iowa Short Fiction Prize—comes the extraordinary, unexpected debut tale of three generations of Chinese-American women in a San Francisco family who must confront their past and carve out a future.
The Kong women are in crisis. A disastrous trip to visit her "home" orphanage in China has plunged eighteen-year-old Ari into a self-destructive spiral. Her adoptive mother, Charlie, a lawyer with a great heart, is desperate to keep her daughter safe. Meanwhile, Charlie must endure the prickly scrutiny of her beautiful, Bryn Mawr educated mother, Gran—who, as the daughter of a cultured Chinese doctor, came to America to survive Mao's Revolution—and her sister, Les, a brilliant judge with a penchant to rule over everyone's lives.
As they cope with Ari's journey of discovery and its aftermath, the Kong women will come face to face with the truths of their lives—four powerful intertwining stories of accomplishment, tenacity, secrets, loneliness, and love. Beautifully illuminating the bonds of family and blood, The Year She Left Us explores the promise and pain of adoption, the price of assimilation and achievement, the debt we owe to others, and what we owe ourselves.
Ma's first novel is a sweeping success a standout from the many novels about Chinese assimilation and the families of Chinese immigrants with a fascinating protagonist with a troubling past. Ari, age 18, is one of the "lost daughters of China"; she's been brought to America by her single mom, Charlie. Ari is a "Whackadoodle," a member of a group of adopted Chinese girls in the San Francisco area, but unlike them, her mother and family are Chinese (most of the other girls are adopted by white families). While Ari looks like her new family, nothing else about her fits easily in place. Early on, the book hints at a trauma that later becomes visible when Ari's growing despair manifests itself as self-inflicted violence; her disconnection from herself is horrifying, especially since Ma implies that not all losses can be recovered. Meanwhile, the mistakes that haunt Charlie's mom and Ari's grandmother, Gran, are as affecting as those that haunt Ari; while Ari searches for value in her own life, Gran must make decisions with lasting repercussions, in addition the decisions of her past that continue to haunt her. As Gran says, "She has a future of mistakes ahead of her. I am old. My mistakes are all behind me." This is a family saga of insight, regret, and pathos, and it is not to be missed.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Too long and not worth the time invested
This book never kept my interest. I didn't really like most of the characters...except Gran. I felt the story lines were unfinished and fragmented. And the ending was very abrupt and disappointing. I felt confused and as abandoned as an orphan from China. I would not recommend this book.