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The Year She Left Us: A Novel

The Year She Left Us: A Novel

3.0 3
by Kathryn Ma

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From the winner of the 2009 Iowa Short Fiction Prize—comes the extraordinary, unexpected debut tale of three generations of Chinese-American women in a San Francisco family who must confront their past and carve out a future.

The Kong women are in crisis. A disastrous trip to visit her "home" orphanage in China has plunged eighteen-year-old Ari into a


From the winner of the 2009 Iowa Short Fiction Prize—comes the extraordinary, unexpected debut tale of three generations of Chinese-American women in a San Francisco family who must confront their past and carve out a future.

The Kong women are in crisis. A disastrous trip to visit her "home" orphanage in China has plunged eighteen-year-old Ari into a self-destructive spiral. Her adoptive mother, Charlie, a lawyer with a great heart, is desperate to keep her daughter safe. Meanwhile, Charlie must endure the prickly scrutiny of her beautiful, Bryn Mawr educated mother, Gran—who, as the daughter of a cultured Chinese doctor, came to America to survive Mao's Revolution—and her sister, Les, a brilliant judge with a penchant to rule over everyone's lives.

As they cope with Ari's journey of discovery and its aftermath, the Kong women will come face to face with the truths of their lives—four powerful intertwining stories of accomplishment, tenacity, secrets, loneliness, and love. Beautifully illuminating the bonds of family and blood, The Year She Left Us explores the promise and pain of adoption, the price of assimilation and achievement, the debt we owe to others, and what we owe ourselves.

Editorial Reviews

Curtis Sittenfeld on All That Work and Still No Boys
“With subtle intelligence and wry humor, Kathryn Ma brings us characters whose lives are complicated-in all the best ways-by family, race, immigration, and quirks of personality. These wonderful stories have the resonance of truth even as they make you see the world in new ways.”
Los Angeles Times on All That Work and Still No Boys
“Ma’s stories are layered…there are no good guys, no bad guys, just the deep suffering that ripples through families-the things that everyone knows and no one talks about.”
Lynn Freed on All That Work and Still No Boys
“Kathryn Ma is a wonderful writer. Subtle, complex, funny, touching, these stories deliver a world of characters I shall not forget.”
Margot Livesey
“The characters of Kathryn Ma’s glittering debut novel are complicated, infuriating and hugely sympathetic. I couldn’t wait to find out what they’d do next; I envy readers coming to these pages for the first time.”
Karin Evans
“In this provocative tale of a family pulled apart, Kathryn Ma proves herself a powerful storyteller and an astute observer of the complexities of human experience and the perils and possibilities of love.”
Jennifer Egan
“Kathryn Ma’s first novel is electrified by the enraged tenderness of its alienated young protagonist. Part mystery, part odyssey, The Year She Left Us heralds the arrival of a fierce, subtle new American voice.”
Gish Jen
“Full of secrets and obsessed with identity, this story of an adopted Chinese girl comes closer to the complexity of things than any other account I have read. It is moving and well told, and rings perfectly true.”
the Oprah Magazine O
“A sparklingly original fiction debut.”
Rebecca Liao
“A deft, raw dissection of an American family….With great cleverness, Ma injects her Chinese family with American realism.”
Laura Miller
“There’s much to enjoy in The Year She Left Us….It’s Ari’s voice that sets this novel on fire….The magnetism exerted by Ari’s chapters is all the more impressive because for much of the book, the character’s misery seems to float free of her circumstances.”
Shelf Awareness
“Incandescent….A stirring excavation of adolescent, familial and racial identity…The Year She Left Us is difficult and lovely, wild and endearing.”
Stephen Hongsohn
“Poignant and impressive….this novel is one that could be taught alongside a number of other outstanding Asian American narratives/memoirs concerning adoptees such as Jane Jeong Trenka’s Fugitive Visions and Monique Truong’s Bitter in the Mouth.”
May-Lee Chai
“In telling Ari Kong’s quest, Ma succeeds in creating a deeply intelligent heroine as compelling as Holden Caulfield and Alexander Portnoy….The Year She Left Us is a fresh, compelling look at the ties that bind among all the kinds of families that we create.”
“Ma brings all sorts of relationships-mother-daughter, sister-sister, friend-friend-to vivid life. And she painstakingly conveys that we are never just one thing, and can never be fixed by just one formula.”
Mona Simpson
“Haunting….The foundling may be a family figure in the history of the novel, most prominently in Dickens and the Brontës, but Ma gives us a striking 21st-century iteration…One of the stunning accomplishments of this book is Ma’s tonal range.”
Stanford Magazine
“Uniquely articulated and refreshing.”
Charles Baxter
“This story of strong women and their attachments is beautifully told, and is remarkably shrewd about familial love, cultural norms, and estrangement. A wonderfully rich first novel.”
The New York Times Book Review - Mona Simpson
…haunting…The foundling may be a familiar figure in the history of the novel, most prominently in Dickens and the Brontës, but Ma gives us a striking 21st-century iteration…Like Philip Roth and, more recently, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ma is unafraid to generalize about her culture and explore its snobberies and social codes…Ma writes about the darker side of Chinese adoption, her social commentary less jaunty and sentimental than Dickens, more like Dreiser in its harsh realism.
Publishers Weekly
★ 03/24/2014
Ma’s first novel is a sweeping success—a standout from the many novels about Chinese assimilation and the families of Chinese immigrants—with a fascinating protagonist with a troubling past. Ari, age 18, is one of the “lost daughters of China”; she’s been brought to America by her single mom, Charlie. Ari is a “Whackadoodle,” a member of a group of adopted Chinese girls in the San Francisco area, but unlike them, her mother and family are Chinese (most of the other girls are adopted by white families). While Ari looks like her new family, nothing else about her fits easily in place. Early on, the book hints at a trauma that later becomes visible when Ari’s growing despair manifests itself as self-inflicted violence; her disconnection from herself is horrifying, especially since Ma implies that not all losses can be recovered. Meanwhile, the mistakes that haunt Charlie’s mom and Ari’s grandmother, Gran, are as affecting as those that haunt Ari; while Ari searches for value in her own life, Gran must make decisions with lasting repercussions, in addition the decisions of her past that continue to haunt her. As Gran says, “She has a future of mistakes ahead of her. I am old. My mistakes are all behind me.” This is a family saga of insight, regret, and pathos, and it is not to be missed. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
A debut novel featuring a simple plot crammed with information—factual and emotional, conflicting and unreliable. The result is complicated, like real life.Eighteen-year-old Ari was adopted as a baby from an orphanage in China; her mother, Charlie, raised her in San Francisco with ample input from her own sister, Les, and their mother, Gran. The three women present a nuanced take on what it means to be Chinese-American. Gran grew up privileged in China, moving to the U.S. after the Second Sino-Japanese War. She attended Bryn Mawr, married a Chinese man, cooked goose and stuffing every Christmas, opened a Chinese restaurant, married again, moved to Taipei and back. Gran's life could fill its own book. Her daughters both entered the legal profession, neither marrying, with only Charlie bringing a child into the family. Charlie raised Ari among a minor mob of other WACDs—Western-Adopted Chinese Daughters—and their white parents, working to emphasize a heritage Charlie herself never had. The point of view moves among the women, including Ari, whose attitude toward her upbringing is scathing. But it hardly seems to matter. "I fixed my sights on that bleak beginning and ran straight toward it," she says from the start. She leaves home twice: once to go to China, where she sinks into a violent depression, and then on a search for a father. Charlie, Les and Gran are devastated by her leaving, but as close as they are, there is little warmth between them. Their sniffing disapproval of each other's handling of Ari drives them further apart. The novel questions the meaning of family, background and belonging.Ma is a cagey writer, withholding and misdirecting at nearly every turn, which can be frustrating. Nonetheless, this is an impassioned, unapologetic look at tough, interesting subjects.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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P.S. Series
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.79(d)

Meet the Author

Kathryn Ma is the author of the story collection All That Work and Still No Boys, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award. The book was named a San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Discoveries Book. She is also the recipient of the David Nathan Meyerson Prize for Fiction.

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The Year She Left Us: A Novel 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
The Year She Left Us follows the four women of the Kong family, spanning three generations, each with her own distinct personality and perspective. Kathryn Ma's debut novel is both an immigrant story and a coming of age story, one that tackles the intricacies of international adoption, family obligation, and abandonment issues from a variety of angles. These are four very strong, realistic female characters. They are independent and self-reliant, carrying themselves with confidence despite whatever turmoil they are facing within. Sometimes that confident facade invokes admiration; other times, frustration. Shannon at River City Reading felt the alternating viewpoints of this novel "caused the reading experience to lose fluidity." I wholeheartedly agree with that. I felt pretty lukewarm about the book for far too long, not connecting in any significant way until I was well more than halfway through. This is a story that unfolds slowly, and although the alternating perspectives caused more interruptions than I would have liked, I was still compelled to stick with it. The tenderness and wisdom of the ending left me feeling that this was time well spent. I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very boring read!