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WHAT WE WERE PROMISED

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

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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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