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The Year She Left Us: A Novel Hardcover – May 13, 2014
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Ma turns conventional wisdom about adoption on its head in this probing novel about a young woman adopted from China as an infant. Ari is the kind of person who is abundant in real life but largely missing from fiction: a prickly, selfish, lost girl who can hardly stand the presence of her single mother, an American of Chinese ancestry. Tormented by feelings of abandonment (“the a-word”) and chafed by her mother’s circle’s cheery attempts to connect their adopted children to “their” culture, Ari takes off. She abandons the tour group a friend is leading in China and goes off grid, with harrowing consequences. Fetched back home, she bides her time and leaves for Alaska, in search of an elusive father figure: a man who appears in a photo with Ari as a baby. 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. --Lynn Weber
“A deft, raw dissection of an American family….With great cleverness, Ma injects her Chinese family with American realism.” (Rebecca Liao, San Francisco Chronicle)
“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.” (Jennifer Egan, author of A Visit from the Goon Squad)
“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.” (Gish Jen, author of World and Town )
“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.” (Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy)
“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.” (Mona Simpson, New York Times Book Review)
“A sparklingly original fiction debut.” (O, the Oprah Magazine)
“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.” (Laura Miller, Salon)
“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.” (May-Lee Chai, Dallas Morning News)
“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.” (Karin Evans, author of The Lost Daughters of China and Not Quite Home)
“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.” (Booklist)
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None of the characters rang true. Wooden and shut down. Emotions were peculiar. If anyone cared for or loved anyone, it was well hidden. The relationship between Charles and Ari would be understandable if Charles had beat Ari, or at least been cold, condescending or something. If Charles was half the mother described, or Ari not psychopathic, their relationship would make sense.
When I pit the book down I felt depressed, sorry for the characters left on their senseless, chaotic treadmill. They seemingly have everything, but in fact have less than nothing.