Tan examines the tension behind the facade of the moneyed lifestyle in a still-evolving post-Mao Shanghai, where everyone...

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WHAT WE WERE PROMISED

Like the Emerald City in Oz, contemporary Shanghai provides the backdrop for an examination of the clash between old and new lifestyles and values in Tan’s debut novel.

Upon moving back to mainland China after more than 20 years in America, the Zhens finds themselves ill at ease in their new opulent and coddled setting. Husband Wei becomes unhappy with his work for a multinational advertising firm, while the previously industrious Lina settles into the unfamiliar role of taitai, a housewife with no housewifely duties and an infinite amount of time to devote to shopping and gossipy meals. Karen, their adolescent daughter, spends most of the year at an American boarding school in order to enjoy the purported advantages of “American privilege.” Wei and Lina are strangers to Shanghai themselves, having shared modest beginnings in Suzhou, a silk-farming town. The silent witness to the Zhens’ quietly uncomfortable household is Sunny, an observant housekeeper from rural Hefei. When the balance of the Zhens’ carefully calibrated domesticity is disrupted by the reappearance of Wei’s long-out-of-touch brother, Qiang, the assumptions that underpin the family’s fragile equilibrium are tested. In the Zhen household, Tan brings us a microcosm of the conflicts among China’s larger populations: residents versus expatriates, wealthy versus poor, urban and commercial versus rural and agrarian. Humming quietly beneath the surface of the day-to-day microdrama in the Zhens’ home is the motif of the disappearance of Lina’s talismanic ivory bracelet, the story of which reflects the rivalries between more than one set of characters in this portrait of people learning how to live after a period of immense repression.

Tan examines the tension behind the facade of the moneyed lifestyle in a still-evolving post-Mao Shanghai, where everyone seems to be an expat in their own country.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-43718-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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