Living between cultures might mean never being at home—or finding home in the space between.

THANK YOU, MR. NIXON

STORIES

This stunning new linked short story collection offers a fresh take on the experience of immigration and exile.

Political and economic relations between China and the United States are major news, but Jen takes it to the micro level in her vibrant short stories about characters who are varying degrees of Chinese and American—and for whom the question of what it means to be Chinese and/or American touches every corner of their lives. In the title story, a Chinese woman who was a young girl when she met U.S. President Richard Nixon during his historic visit to “open” China expresses her gratitude to him for the changes in her country. She’s writing him from heaven; his address is the ninth circle of hell. In "It’s the Great Wall!" American-born Grace Chen de Castro goes with her immigrant mother, Opal, on a tour of China—Opal’s first return home in 40 years. Despite the clowning of Grace’s annoying non-Chinese husband, the daughter’s understanding of the mother will be transformed as Opal bridges both cultures. Several of the stories revolve around the Koo family. Tina and Johnson Koo live in a posh home in Hong Kong, with a view of the city from a “picture window, in the blue light, with the mountain and mist like a screensaver behind them.” There, Tina frets over her daughters, Betty, “the good one,” glamorous youngest Lulu, and especially the oldest, Bobby, who has not only moved to America with no apparent intention to return, but has cut off contact with her parents. Some of the stories about the Koos, like "Lulu in Exile," about how Lulu’s promising relationship with a rich, older Chinese American man is scuttled by the man’s shrewd mother, are hilarious. Others, like the final story in the collection, "Detective Dog," are heartbreaking. Recurring and related characters link all of the stories, which are set across several decades. Jen’s crisp prose, wonderful eye for detail, and wry humor make them a joy to read, and there is wisdom here, too—we’re all exiles from something.

Living between cultures might mean never being at home—or finding home in the space between.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-31989-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

A young woman finds herself at a Covid-induced crossroads in Picoult’s latest ultratopical novel.

Sotheby’s associate Diana O'Toole, age 29, and her surgical resident boyfriend, Finn, are planning a trip to the Galapagos in March 2020. But as New York City shuts down, Finn is called to do battle against Covid-19 in his hospital’s ICU and ER, while Diana, at his urging, travels to the archipelago alone. She arrives on Isabela Island just as quarantine descends and elects to stay, though her luggage was lost, her hotel is shuttered, and her Spanish is “limited.” What follows is the meticulously researched depiction Picoult readers have come to expect, of the flora and fauna of this island and both its paradisiacal and dangerous aspects. Beautiful lagoons hide riptides, spectacular volcanic vistas conceal deep pits—and penguins bite! A hotel employee known only as Abuela gives Diana shelter at her home. Luckily, Abuela’s grandson Gabriel, a former tour guide, speaks flawless English, as does his troubled daughter, Beatriz, 14, who was attending school off-island when the pandemic forced her back home. Beatriz and Diana bond over their distant and withholding mothers: Diana’s is a world-famous photographer now consigned to a memory care facility with early-onset Alzheimer’s, while Beatriz’s ran off with a somewhat less famous photographer. Despite patchy cellphone signals and Wi-Fi, emails from Finn break through, describing, also in Picoult’s spare-no-detail starkness, the horrors of his long shifts as the virus wreaks its variegated havoc and the cases and death toll mount. Diana is venturing into romantically and literally treacherous waters when Picoult yanks this novel off life-support by resorting to a flagrantly hackneyed plot device. Somehow, though, it works, thanks again to that penchant for grounding every fictional scenario in thoroughly documented fact. Throughout, we are treated to pithy if rather self-evident thematic underscoring, e.g. “You can’t plan your life….Because then you have a plan. Not a life.”

Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984818-41-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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