Rachel Khong, acclaimed for her debut novel, Goodbye, Vitamin, returns with a second offering, a powerful, multi-generational family drama, one that depicts many facets of the immigrant experience. The story spans decades and is divided into three sections, each dominated by a first-person narrator.  

In the first section, in the year 1999, we meet Lily, a young woman, about to graduate from college and living in New York. The daughter of two Chinese American scientists who escaped Mao’s Cultural Revolution, she was born in the U.S., and is an art history major. She lacks any interest in science, toils as an unpaid intern for a travel magazine, and is barely able to make ends meet. At an office party, she meets Mathew, a charming, handsome man who hails from a family that owns a major pharmaceutical conglomerate and who works in private equity. He takes an interest in her and after a whirlwind courtship, they get married. However, all is not well. Lily soon comes to suspect she cannot trust her in-laws. Following the difficult birth of her son, Nick, and surviving the complications that arise from it, she decides to leave Mathew and their extravagant life.  

In the second section, in the year 2021, we get acquainted with teenager Nick, who lives with his single mom, Lily, on an isolated island located in Washington state. About to graduate from high school, Nick, who shows no outward sign of his Asian heritage, grows curious and decides to have his DNA analyzed. It is then he becomes aware of the existence of Mathew, his biological father. Without Lily’s knowledge, he contacts Mathew, and they immediately connect. Can Nick easily accept the financial and other benefits that result from this encounter? Where does he go from here?  

The third section unfolds in 2030, but also travels back in time. It is narrated by octogenarian May, Lily’s scientist mother, who had to carve out a life in the U.S. We hear the story of the research she dedicated her life to, the compromises she had to make along the way, the painful secrets she still holds. Now that she’s nearing death, will she have an opportunity to unburden herself to her loved ones? 

There are many issues to ponder here: identity, human connection, material success, the moral dimensions of gene editing, and the quest for love. Complications abound and the characters are well-drawn. It is in fact the characters and their nearly insurmountable challenges that make this an engrossing reading experience. 

Bharti Kirchner is the author of nine novels and four cookbooks. Her most recent novel is Murder at Jaipur: A Maya Mallick Mystery.

Previous articleCaitlin Sarwono stars in ‘Spring Awakening’ at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Next articleArtists Justin and Caitlin Truong pay homage to Little Saigon and seek a future of vitality