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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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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