cover image The Manicurist’s Daughter: A Memoir

The Manicurist’s Daughter: A Memoir

Susan Lieu. Celadon, $30 (320) ISBN 978-1-250-83504-8

Playwright Lieu delivers a stirring debut memoir focused on the fallout from her mother’s untimely death in 1996. Dividing the account into six sections, each corresponding to different meanings of the Vietnamese word ma (“Mother,” “Ghost,” “Tomb,” “But,” “Newborn Rice Seedling,” and “Horse”), Lieu traces her anguish across decades and continents. The youngest of four children, and the only one born in the U.S., Lieu grew up helping her Vietnamese mother, Hà Thi (or “Jennifer” to her American clients) operate several nail salons in Northern California. When Hà Thi died suddenly after receiving an abdominoplasty from a surgeon with a history of malpractice, 11-year-old Lieu was set adrift. She took multiple trips to Vietnam as a young adult, attempting to understand her mother within the contexts of both the country’s history and her own family. She also consulted mediums and old family recipes in attempts to conjure her late mother’s spirit. After settling back in the U.S., Lieu wrote and performed an autobiographical play that fostered dialogue about Hà Thi among her mostly tight-lipped relatives, and helped ease tensions between Lieu and her often-harsh father. Lieu’s candor about her mother’s faults (body-shaming chief among them) and righteous anger at the surgeon who killed her set this apart from similar fare. It’s a generous portrait of grief that will touch those who’ve struggled with loss. Agent: Monika Verma, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary. (Mar.)