Tuesday, June 17, 2014

G364 Book Review of The Year She Left Us by Kathryn Ma

Name of Book: The Year She Left Us

Author: Kathryn Ma

ISBN: 978-0-06-227334-5

Publisher: Harper Collins

Type of book: International adoption, single parenting, lawyers, interracial relationships, multi-generational book, troublemaker, incompleteness, friendship, siblings

Year it was published: 2014


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 Usexplores the promise and pain of adoption, the price of assimilation and achievement, the debt we owe to others, and what we owe ourselves.


The main characters include Ari, Charlie, Les and Gran. I will begin with Ari. Ari is in her late teens up to her early twenties. As a baby she was adopted from China and grew up in America. She seems to be a magnet for trouble and often feels as if her life is constantly falling apart. Charlie is Ari's single mother, also Chinese-American who seemed to be seeking connection between her mother and her heritage, which is one of the reasons she adopted Ari. Charlie works as an assistant for a lawyer and seems to have a very giving soul. Les is Charlie's elder sister and is a judge. She is very pragmatic and is also single without a child or husband. She's a very strong woman. Gran is also a strong woman although the best way to describe her is overbearing and pushy. She also keeps secrets and regrets about her life that she doesn't want anyone to know about. She has strained relationships with her sister, her granddaughter and her daughters.


Emotions are very complex


The book is written in third and first person point of view. Ari and Gran are first person narrative, while Charlie and Les are third person. Besides Gran and Ari, the characters seem to lack completeness and only Gran and Ari grow up so to speak. The book is somewhat in chronological order although I wasn't able to relate to the characters and I struggled with the prologue where Ari is in China. The writing and plot are engaging, its just that one has to learn to love Ari because most of the book you'll be stuck with her, and for me she's not an easy person to like.

Author Information:
(From TLC)

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Kathryn MaAbout Kathryn Ma

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. Before becoming a writer, Ma was a partner in a California law firm. She lives with her family in San Francisco. This is her first novel.
Find out more about Kathryn at her website, follow her on Twitter, and connect with her on Facebook.


I really have a strange reaction to reading this book built on frustration towards the characters as well as trying somewhat to get what they're going through. While I'm not the adopted child or parent, I was transplanted from one culture to another at eight years of age, thus I should have been able to relate to Ari and what she's going through. But I kind of wasn't able to because Ari was literally a baby when she was taken away from China and she has no first-hand knowledge of her homeland. I'm not really sure what the book was trying to accomplish, besides pointing out a fine line between being interested and immersed in a different culture, which is what stood out for me. Few times throughout the book, with Chinese adopted girls, it seemed that its okay to be marginally interested in a native culture, but its not okay to become completely immersed in a culture. Besides that as well, the stories of the three generations of women often reminded me how one tiny ripple can effect the whole family for better or worse. Also as well, this book doesn't focus on romance between main characters, for those that are looking for something romance free.

This is for TLC Book Tour

Kathryn’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, May 13th: Books in the City
Tuesday, May 20th: Olduvai Reads
Wednesday, May 21st: The Infinite Shelf
Thursday, May 22nd: A Bookish Way of Life
Tuesday, May 27th: River City Reading
Wednesday, May 28th: A Patchwork of Books
Monday, June 2nd: Drey’s Library
Tuesday, June 3rd: BookNAround
Monday, June 9th: BoundbyWords
Tuesday, June 10th: red headed book child
Wednesday, June 11th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Thursday, June 12th: Book-alicious Mama
Friday, June 13th: From the TBR Pile
Friday, June 13th: Turn the Page
4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

1 comment:

  1. I hadn't thought about the difference between being interested in and immersed in a culture but it is a very big difference once you think about it ...

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!


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