cover image What We Were Promised

What We Were Promised

Lucy Tan. Little, Brown, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-43718-9

Tan’s solid debut centers on Shanghai housewife Lina Zhen and her observant former housekeeper, Sunny. Lina still holds a torch for Qiang, the wild brother of her husband, Wei, though Qiang has been gone for 20 years. After living in the U.S., the Zhen family relocates to Shanghai, now a part of the upper class, for Wei’s lucrative, high-profile marketing job, which allows Lina to forgo working and live a life of leisure. She’s often at home while Wei works late and on weekends, tending to her 12-year-old daughter, Karen, when she isn’t being educated abroad. When Qiang sees Wei on television and contacts the family, Lina looks forward to finally being able to ask him why he reneged on their plans to run away together before her wedding. In anticipation of spending time with Qiang, Lina hires Sunny, their housekeeper of five years before they moved to the U.S., to look after Karen for the summer. Sunny picks up on the situation in the household and wonders how Wei can remain so clueless. Sunny also sends part of her paycheck back to her family in Hefei, who wonder why she prefers to work rather than settle down and have a baby. Sunny and Wei’s stories are arresting, but Qiang and Lina come off as entitled in spite of the author’s efforts to make them sympathetic. Despite this, the novel presents an intriguing portrait of class, duty, and family. (July)