Thursday, 5 October 2017

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Being stamped with “literary award winner” means this is a book I would normally avoid reading. For me these three words conjure up boring novels with long scenic descriptions and in-depth character analysis which leave no room for much of anything to happen. However this debut novel, winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, cannot be described in these terms. Yes it is beautifully written and yes it has complex characters but it also has a well-crafted story-line, which kept me hooked from the first page.

Weaving back and forth between undocumented Chinese immigrant Peilan and her son Deming, we experience Peilan’s early life in the rural village of Minjiang where she lived with her father. America, the land of unlimited wealth and opportunities, beckoned and Peilan settles in New York City where she works in a factory sewing clothes and then into the much higher paid position of nail technician at a beauty salon. With no support the difficulties of working and caring for a small baby are beyond Peilan and she sends the very young Deming home to her father in China. Circumstances see Deming return to live with Peilan in the one roomed apartment she shares with her fiancé, his sister and her son. Then one day Peilan disappears and her fiancé’s sister takes Deming to the authorities with the result that at aged eight he is fostered into an American white family.

Deming’s journey, much like his mother’s, takes him from one continent to another, moving between different cultures and languages. To share more details than this would be a plot spoiler, for the story is woven through what happened to Peilan.

What makes this book such a good read is that it is more than a story about a separated mother and son. There’s the clash of parents doing the wrong things for the right reasons; there’s children trying to do the right thing for misguided reasons and there’s the story of present day American society failing to do the right thing in the fraught area of illegal immigration.

Ko has captured the heart of her characters and with descriptions like…snow fell like clots of wet laundry…maybe I could be tempted to read another literary award winning novel.

Posted by Miss Moneypenny

Catalogue link: The Leavers

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