cover image Bury What We Cannot Take

Bury What We Cannot Take

Kirstin Chen. Little A, $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5420-4970-2

Chen opens a window into 1950s Maoist China in her evocative second novel (following Soy Sauce for Beginners), which features three generations of the Ong family. Nine-year-old San San and her older brother, Ah Liam, live in a household run by their mother and grandmother on Drum Wave Islet, a small island off the coast of mainland China. Their father, Ah Zhai, has worked in Hong Kong for years, keeping a mistress, supporting his family from afar, and hiding his financial woes. When he sees the writing on the wall about the Communist crackdown on capitalism and anything Western, he devises a ruse to get his bourgeois family to Hong Kong. Meanwhile, his son, vying for a place in the Communist Youth League on Drum Wave Islet, decides to up his chances for acceptance by reporting his grandmother’s destruction of Chairman Mao’s portrait. Chaos ensues; the family has to leave San San behind with the servants, hoping to bring her to Hong Kong later. This leads to a new set of complications. Chen captures the complex and terrifying political environment of the time through San San’s horrifying experience trying to reach her family, as well as through the depiction of the consequences of family loyalty over party loyalty. This is a fascinating family portrait. (Mar.)