In conversation with local author Nicole Chung (author for the forthcoming memoir, All You Can Ever Know).
Kirstin Chen's new novel, Bury What We Cannot Take, is a captivating and emotional tale that follows one family's reckoning with how the events of one day will change their lives forever, set against the backdrop of early Maoist China.
One summer day in 1957, nine-year-old San San and her twelve-year-old brother, Ah Liam, discover their grandmother taking a hammer to a framed portrait of Chairman Mao. To prove his loyalty to the Party, Ah Liam reports his grandmother to the authorities. But his belief in doing the right thing sets in motion a terrible chain of events. Now the family must flee their home on Drum Wave Islet, which sits just a few hundred meters across the channel from mainland China. But when their mother goes to procure visas for safe passage to Hong Kong, the government will only issue them on the condition that she leave behind one of her children as proof of the family's intention to return. San San's family must grapple with their agonizing decision, its far-reaching consequences, and their hope for redemption. Readers who delight in uncovering family secrets, lesser-known histories from far-off places, and satisfying, layered characters each with their own story to tell will embrace this rich, heartrending story. Bury What We Cannot Take belongs on a shelf next to show stopping novels like Yiyun Li's The Vagrants and Madeleine Thien's Do Not Say We Have Nothing.
Kirstin Chen is also the author of the novel Soy Sauce for Beginners, a Kindle First selection, an O, The Oprah Magazine "book to pick up now," and a Glamour book club pick. She has received awards from the Steinbeck Fellows Program, Sewanee, Hedgebrook, and the Napa Valley Writers' Conference. She was the fall 2017 NTU-NAC National Writer in Residence in Singapore and currently resides in San Francisco.