Bowl Is Already Broken

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Overview

Promise Whittaker, the diminutive but decisive acting director of the Museum of Asian Art, is pregnant again—and that's just the beginning of her problems. Her mentor, the previous director, has suddenly quit, and is on a dig in China's Taklamakan Desert. Her favorite curator has dropped a priceless porcelain bowl, once owned by Thomas Jefferson, down the museum's steps. Another colleague has been embezzling from the museum to pay for her fertility treatments. And her far too handsome ancillary director is ...

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The Bowl Is Already Broken: A Novel

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Overview

Promise Whittaker, the diminutive but decisive acting director of the Museum of Asian Art, is pregnant again—and that's just the beginning of her problems. Her mentor, the previous director, has suddenly quit, and is on a dig in China's Taklamakan Desert. Her favorite curator has dropped a priceless porcelain bowl, once owned by Thomas Jefferson, down the museum's steps. Another colleague has been embezzling from the museum to pay for her fertility treatments. And her far too handsome ancillary director is clearly up to no good. Promise's offbeat efforts to hold everything together make her a character who, in the words of the Newark Star-Ledger, "you'll be falling in love with before you've turned the first page."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An authoritative novel about the museum world. . . . Her wit is equal to her wisdom."—The Seattle Times

"The Smithsonian Institute is many things, most of them quite wonderful . . . but to the best of my knowledge it has rarely if ever been the inspiration and setting for a novel. . . . Zuravleff is very smart, knows her subject and writes very well."—The Washington Post

"This multi-layered, erudite novel implies that it is only in the face of destruction, in the gathering of the shards, that meaning and humanity reside."—San Francisco Chronicle

"The Bowl Is Already Broken is pure delight. . . . All of us would enjoy this book."—The Roanoke Times

Publishers Weekly
Former Smithsonian editor Zuravleff's logy second novel (after The Frequency of Souls) tracks the mishaps and hard-won triumphs of the staff of a little museum that could, Washington, D.C.'s fictitious Museum of Asian Art. The novel opens on diminutive Promise Whittaker, the acting director, watching the museum's curator of Chinese ceramics drop a priceless Jingdezhen porcelain bowl at the prize acquisition's unveiling ceremony. Backtrack six months: Promise, a 43-year-old, Oklahoma-bred Rumi scholar and devoted wife and mother of two, is as floored by her promotion to interim director as she is by her unexpected pregnancy. Then director Joseph Lattimore, yearning to join a dig in the Taklamakan Desert, is threatened with the museum's extinction unless he brings in significant funding. Meanwhile, the curator of ancient Chinese art, Min Chen, embezzles museum funds to cover fertility treatments. As Joseph is eased into involuntary retirement, Promise injects some much needed energy into the museum's operations, all while maintaining an implausibly ideal home life. Though the plot ranges from shenanigans in D.C. to adventures in Central Asia, it bogs down in art historical detail where it should skip briskly. The shattered bowl becomes a metaphor of Buddhist wisdom, a lesson in patience and fortitude that one can also learn from tireless mothers like Promise. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Pity poor Promise. The museum of Asian arts where she works devotedly is about to become a food court. Deposed director Joseph, her beloved mentor, aims to prove that he still has some fight in him by heading off to an excavation in a very remote part of Asia. Promise's buddy, Arthur, is so obsessed with ancient porcelain that he can't see how fragile his bond with his lover has become. Oh, yes, and colleague Min has been misappropriating funds for fertility treatments. On the home front, the house is falling apart, the baby sitter is sullen, and Promise's husband, Leo, an international human rights worker, wishes he had more of her time. Then Promise finds that she is pregnant, even as she is appointed interim director of the museum. In this intriguing tale of a museum-as-microcosm, the atmosphere is richly evoked, the art history fascinating, the issues thought-provoking, the characters deftly drawn, and the action, alas, a bit slow, burdened as it is with too much detail. Buy for larger fiction collections and where Zuvravleff's The Frequency of Souls was popular.-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A glacially slow second novel from Zuravleff (The Frequency of Souls, 1996) concerns an embattled museum and its varied staff. The Museum of Asian Art, with its fabulous location on the Mall in Washington, D.C., has a fateful day in 1999 when its banners promoting Asian cultures send the nation's governors into a xenophobic tizzy that causes them to pressure the trustees into converting the museum into a food court. The museum's director, beloved and energetic Joseph Lattimore, surprisingly caves (add unconvincing characterization to a dumb premise). He gives notice and leaves with wife Emmy for a dig in the Taklamakan, a Central Asian desert, where he will be taken hostage by Kashmiri terrorists, barely escaping with his life. Conflict in the desert substitutes for conflict in D.C., where the battle is never joined between trustees and museum staff. Acting director Promise Whittaker doesn't learn of the trustees' plans until the story's halfway point, and doesn't save the day by enlisting the Dalai Lama's help until the end (something Joseph could have done at the beginning). Petite, goodhearted Promise is the actual protagonist. This 43-year-old Oklahoman, married with two kids to top Amnesty staffer Leo, finds she is pregnant again. Zuravleff, a former editor of books for the Smithsonian, eulogizes this working mom at length when she's not imparting information on Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet who's Promise's specialty. As for the titular bowl, curator Arthur Franklin has acquired this fine Chinese porcelain for the museum but drops it at the donation ceremony, shattering it beyond repair. The broken bowl embodies a Buddhist lesson, but it's also a victim of bedroom shenanigans,for Arthur's triumphal lofting of the bowl had been suggested by fellow curator Talbot during some gay foreplay. Not to worry. Arthur gets off with probation, as does Min Chen, a curator who once embezzled museum funds to pay for fertility treatments. Zuravleff's love for ancient treasures and their sometimes fallible guardians is clear on every page. Unfortunately, that love alone isn't sufficient foundation for a novel.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312424985
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 3/21/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 853,645
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Kay Zuravleff, a former editor of books and exhibition texts for the Smithsonian Institution, lives in Washington, D.C., with her family.

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