Ma’s book is hardly escapist reading for this year—the novel follows a young office worker in New York who’s among the only survivors of a global pandemic that turns its victims into zombies. A reviewer for Kirkus called it “smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written,” and praised Ma’s “lovely meditations on memory and the immigrant experience.”
“While Severance feels like a particularly relevant pick amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Ma’s book also grapples with enduring themes of family, immigration and identity while offering a pointed critique of modern-day office life and late capitalism,” PBS reporter Courtney Vinopal wrote.
In a 2018 interview with the Paris Review, Ma said the idea for Severance came to her while working her own frustrating office job.
“Severance began in 2012 as an apocalyptic short story,” she said. “I worked on it at my desk in the last months of my office job. The company was downsizing, and many employees were getting laid off. As the story progressed, its moods were both joyful and angry. I began to understand that the anger was rooted in issues of work and that in effect, I was unwittingly writing an apocalyptic office novel.”
Michael Schaub is a Texas-based journalist and regular contributor to NPR.