cover image Real Americans

Real Americans

Rachel Khong. Knopf, $29 (416p) ISBN 978-0-593-53725-1

Khong returns (after Goodbye, Vitamin) with an impressive family drama. It opens in 1999 with 22-year-old narrator Lily, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, scraping by in New York City on an unpaid internship. When she meets über-wealthy and über-handsome Matthew it feels like a fairy tale, but a sense of imbalance between them remains as their relationship develops. Khong then fast-forwards to 2021, when Lily and Matthew’s son, Nick, is a teenager. Lily and Matthew are no longer together or even in contact, though it’s unclear why. Disconnected from his family history, Nick struggles to understand his identity. He reconnects with Matthew but finds the dynamic strained and ultimately relocates to San Francisco, where he crosses paths with his maternal grandmother, May, who narrates the novel’s third section, set in 1960s China. Young, ambitious May (then called Mei Ling) attends Peking University on the eve of the Cultural Revolution. Khong is both a perceptive prose stylist and an accomplished storyteller, and she shines brightest when portraying differing cultural styles of parental love (“It wasn’t American,” Nick thinks at one point, “for [his mother] to love [him] as much as she did”). Khong reaches new heights with this fully-fledged outing. Agent: Marya Spence, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Apr.)