What We Were Promised
After years of chasing the American dream, the Zhen family has moved back to China. Settling into a luxurious serviced apartment in Shanghai, Wei, Lina, and their daughter, Karen, join an elite community of Chinese-born, Western-educated professionals who have returned to a radically transformed city.One morning, in the eighth tower of Lanson Suites, Lina discovers that a childhood keepsake, an ivory bracelet, has gone missing. The incident contributes to a wave of unease that has begun to settle throughout the Zhen household. Wei, a marketing strategist, bows under the guilt of not having engaged in nobler work. Meanwhile, Lina, lonely in her new life of leisure, assumes the modern moniker taitai--a housewife who does no housework at all. She spends her days haunted by the circumstances surrounding her arranged marriage to Wei and her lingering feelings for his brother, Qiang. Lina and Wei take pains to hide their anxieties, but their housekeeper, Sunny, a hardworking girl with secrets of her own, bears witness to their struggles. When Qiang reappears in Shanghai after decades on the run with a local gang, the family must finally come to terms with the past.From a silk-producing village in rural China, up the corporate ladder in suburban America, and back again to the post-Maoist nouveau riche of modern Shanghai, WHAT WE WERE PROMSED explores the question of what we owe to our country, our families, and ourselves.

What We Were Promised Details

TitleWhat We Were Promised
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJul 10th, 2018
PublisherLittle, Brown
ISBN-139780316437189
Rating
GenreFiction, Contemporary, Cultural, China, Adult

What We Were Promised Review

  • Lolly K Dandeneau
    January 1, 1970
    via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/'Fang Lijian’s perspective on love was different from any she’d heard before. Lina’s friends had watched too many American movies and to them, love was a classic car that would come roaring in from nowhere when the time was right, pick you up, and peel away. For all their warnings to her about relinquishing control marrying a man she didn’t know, they seemed to crave the kind of love that made you lose control.'The Zhen family returns to China a via my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/'Fang Lijian’s perspective on love was different from any she’d heard before. Lina’s friends had watched too many American movies and to them, love was a classic car that would come roaring in from nowhere when the time was right, pick you up, and peel away. For all their warnings to her about relinquishing control marrying a man she didn’t know, they seemed to crave the kind of love that made you lose control.'The Zhen family returns to China after chasing the “American Dream’, which didn’t quite pan out the way they, and their elders, had expected. Wei didn’t rocket to the success he and his father imagine, bringing greatness to his Chinese roots. His wife Lina isn’t proud of her days spent as a taitai, a housewife who doesn’t have anything to occupy herself with. When Lina’s tanzanite bracelet from Africa (the only remaining keepsake of her early love) disappears, Lina isn’t sure if the old maid stole it or not. Sunny is surprised when the Zhen family asks her to work for them as an ayi, to help with shopping, cooking and to Lina’s mind to have someone to distract their daughter when Wei’s brother Qiang visits.Lina feels a restlessness in her heart, a longing for a past that’s long dead and the life she had imagined, that never breathed life. There was a time when she readied herself to be a dutiful daughter and wife, have many children and live with her in-laws in the village. All of that was obliterated with the reality of moving the America. Qiang and Lian had a moment, though he was the ‘bad’ son. Where Wei was a son to make any Chinese parent proud, Qiang was always in trouble, living in his honorable brother’s shadow. Lina was groomed for marriage to Wei, who would surely make her life one of security, comfort. In her mind she would live out her life in the village, a dutiful wife and daughter-in-law, and never imagined she would one day be teaching Chinese to American children in the United States of America, only to return with nothing to do living in a tower. Why is she now, after so many years, mooning over the past knowing that her feelings for Qiang belong to a different time, a different Lina. Is it boredom, is it Qiang’s plan to visit?Wei isn’t sure how to feel about seeing his brother again, who disappeared without a word, breaking their parents hearts. Shocked to learn that he is even still alive, and angered that he chose not to see their parents sets off a riot of conflicting emotions. It is with suspicion he opens his home to the bad seed. Surely, he must still be running around with criminals, gangsters? Just why does Qiang want to be a part of his family again? Where has he been all these years? Upon his arrival, Qiang seems filled with resentment towards his brother, and in Wei’s mind, comes off as wanting to shame him for not reaching the greatness their father was adamant be his. Who knows better than Qiang what golden future was set for his brother Wei? Lina longs for her moment to find why he chose to abandon them all, especially her. Sunny is witness to everything that happens within’ the Zhen household. She has gone from being ‘under the suspicion of theft’ to working as an ayi. She has her own story to tell, of her marriage and it’s demise, of the money she earns with her hard work and sends home to her family. Sunny has her own family shaming to tolerate, as a daughter is meant to carry on the line, have children, not earn money like some man. Yet, it feels good to earn money, to sustain oneself without a husband to have dodged the life she knew in her bones wasn’t meant for her.This is a novel about cultural and family expectations, it is also how our lives take shape based on unexpected choices others make for us. It is finally getting the whole story, and feeling foolish for the time wasted wondering why. Too, it is about those who have everything, and those who work for them.Publication Date: July 10, 2018Little, Brown and Company
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  • Susie
    January 1, 1970
    As a second generation Asian-American, so much of this novel resonated with me. I've already read it cover-to-cover twice now, and will come back to it again when I'm in the mood for some seriously good writing and story, probably accompanied by a glass of wine and dark chocolate.This book tells the story of a family—Lina, Wei, their adolescent daughter, Karen—moving back to Shanghai for Wei’s marketing career after two decades of living in the U.S. One summer, Wei’s brother comes to visit and L As a second generation Asian-American, so much of this novel resonated with me. I've already read it cover-to-cover twice now, and will come back to it again when I'm in the mood for some seriously good writing and story, probably accompanied by a glass of wine and dark chocolate.This book tells the story of a family—Lina, Wei, their adolescent daughter, Karen—moving back to Shanghai for Wei’s marketing career after two decades of living in the U.S. One summer, Wei’s brother comes to visit and Lina hires a housekeeper/babysitter named Sunny to free up her time to act as hostess. This premise sets up a book that’s essentially character studies of people from different economic classes forced to live and interact within the confines of a single, well-staffed apartment building (Lanson Suites), all the while lying, hiding, evading, pining, and confronting one another with the deftness of any Edith Wharton character.The three narrators—Lina, Wei, Sunny—represent the spectrum of complicated feeling I also have for modern day China and my place in it. There’s the nostalgia for the homeland of my parents and grandparents (where I’ve also spent many summers and college vacations), the flattery of being considered “upper class” simply by having lived in the U.S., the disgust for the myriad of pretensions of the rich, and above all—the search for a life with meaning when you feel displaced by both home and culture. My favorite character in the book was Lina; without giving away spoilers, I loved her flawed personality, her private reflections, even her outward chilliness towards her husband and so-called friends in her “breakfast club”. She’s proud and guarded, a snob of the nouveau riche variety, but money isn’t the thing she seeks—it’s love, that elusive thing so hard to come by regardless of social class. So much of this novel explores what our cultural definition of love is (lust? trust? companionship?) through Lena’s regrets for her past choices, but also, in a fascinating character arc, through the housekeeper, Sunny’s, journey to decide if she wants to throw her lot in with a “good-enough” man, or try to make it on her own. It’s seeing these characters evolve and change through their small, everyday decisions (that bear such lasting consequences!) that provides the greatest pleasures of this novel. Tan’s writing is so wonderfully understated and clean. There isn’t a whiff of the pretensions found in other debut authors. She writes with absolute control and precision. If you pick out any one sentence from the novel, it almost reads Heminway-esque in its plainness, and yet together, there’s a such a beauty to its spareness that I can only imagine the work that must of gone into achieving such restraint. It's the kind of book where I can flip to any page and immediately be absorbed within a matter of seconds. Do yourself a favor and spend a weekend with this, if only for the wonder of reading that incredible last sentence!
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  • Lillian Li
    January 1, 1970
    I loved Lucy Tan’s What We Were Promised. A true talent, debut author Tan writes prose that is compelling, evocative, funny, and at the same time manages to cut straight to the core of things. Most impressive of all is the authority and care with which Tan builds her world of nouveau-riche Shanghai, not only situating the complex, cosmopolitan city in the equally complex history of China and the Cultural Revolution, but allowing this same history to shape and haunt her novel (as fully and inevit I loved Lucy Tan’s What We Were Promised. A true talent, debut author Tan writes prose that is compelling, evocative, funny, and at the same time manages to cut straight to the core of things. Most impressive of all is the authority and care with which Tan builds her world of nouveau-riche Shanghai, not only situating the complex, cosmopolitan city in the equally complex history of China and the Cultural Revolution, but allowing this same history to shape and haunt her novel (as fully and inevitably as it does in reality). Don’t even get me started on her characters. I cried just about anytime Zhen Hong came on the page. I loved Sunny, Rose, Karen, Little Cao, and my heart ached deeply for all the rest.
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  • Afoma Umesi
    January 1, 1970
    Thanks to Little Brown for a free ARC of this book! WHAT WE WERE PROMISED is the enthralling story of Chinese family forced, by the return of a prodigal son, to address familial issues and unfulfilled promises.I was struck by the poignancy of her deceptively simple style, barely ten pages in! This book is full of astute observations about life, love, and the choices we make for the people we love. Combined with compelling characters, the mystery of Qiang’s return and what it will mean for the Zh Thanks to Little Brown for a free ARC of this book! WHAT WE WERE PROMISED is the enthralling story of Chinese family forced, by the return of a prodigal son, to address familial issues and unfulfilled promises.I was struck by the poignancy of her deceptively simple style, barely ten pages in! This book is full of astute observations about life, love, and the choices we make for the people we love. Combined with compelling characters, the mystery of Qiang’s return and what it will mean for the Zhens, this book is hard to put down. Also, the shimmering backdrop of Shanghai — the food, the architecture, and yes, the smog, make Tan’s novel feel like a complete visit to China.This is sure to be on my list of favorite books from this year. I’ve already recommended it enough times to lose count. If you like books with simple language, insightful commentary about life and complex characters, read WHAT WE WERE PROMISED. A compelling, sensitive and thoughtful debut that is sure to move you, I highly recommend this novel!Full review at http://www.afomaumesi.com/2018/07/10/...
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  • Kate
    January 1, 1970
    I’m so pleasantly surprised! More TK 🙂
  • Anne
    January 1, 1970
    I've been fascinated with Chinese culture ever since I was in college and went on Semester at Sea my junior year. I love everything about it including the rich history and struggles so I was excited to read this novel. At first I had trouble getting into it though as there is so much backstory given to bring the reader up to speed with Lina and her family's present. But then as present and past are interwoven, it becomes clearer and more engaging as we have the Zhen family and Sunny as their hou I've been fascinated with Chinese culture ever since I was in college and went on Semester at Sea my junior year. I love everything about it including the rich history and struggles so I was excited to read this novel. At first I had trouble getting into it though as there is so much backstory given to bring the reader up to speed with Lina and her family's present. But then as present and past are interwoven, it becomes clearer and more engaging as we have the Zhen family and Sunny as their housekeeper/nanny. We see the two different worlds of the affluent and the subservient, and later when her brother-in-law comes to visit we witness the buried secrets that have long plagued Lina as her worlds collide. Rich prose and nuanced language make this novel a very satisfying read that will resonate long after you have finished!Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!
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  • Maggie
    January 1, 1970
    Tan's debut novel will definitely put her on the map for her beautiful storytelling and exquisite prose. She eloquently weaves together the characters' lives, flawlessly fusing the past and the present. Each page is filled with such rich detail that you feel as if you are living with the characters in their setting, that you know each of them intimately. At the end, you want the story to continue so you can continue living within their story and reality. Absolutely a must-read for 2018.
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  • Rachel
    January 1, 1970
    A beautifully told story, an advanced copy of which I won here from goodreads!I had read a book (Little Soldiers) just a few weeks ago about Chinese education and culture, so this being a book about Chinese people who live in America and in Shanghai at different periods in the book was a nice coincidence which I felt gave me a little more insight into the values and lifestyles portrayed in the book.This book offers a perspicacious and intelligent look at family and love in many forms.
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  • Maggie Boyd
    January 1, 1970
    What We Were Promised is both a look at life in modern day China and an observation on the unchanging nature of humanity. “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” John Donne told us. This book shows that as a universal truth.After years of going to college and then working in America, the small Zhen family of Wei, Lina and Karen have moved back to China. Wei is a success story, having acquired wealth and status far beyond what was availabl What We Were Promised is both a look at life in modern day China and an observation on the unchanging nature of humanity. “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” John Donne told us. This book shows that as a universal truth.After years of going to college and then working in America, the small Zhen family of Wei, Lina and Karen have moved back to China. Wei is a success story, having acquired wealth and status far beyond what was available in the small village in which he was raised. A perfectionist who has excelled since early childhood at pretty much everything he has attempted, he is now able to house his family in a luxurious, full service apartment complex filled with other ex-pats: Chinese-born, Western-educated professionals who have returned to a new, thriving China.Meanwhile, their housekeeper Sunny embodies the difficulties within her modern nation. She did not rise above her small village roots but was forced out of them by a family who had no place for an unmarried woman unwilling to give them grandchildren. She keeps a professional, courteous distance from the Zhens’ lives until she is invited to be the family ayi for the summer. As a nanny/cook/ and all-around errand girl, she sees first-hand the tensions that are slowly unraveling them. Boss Zhen is very good at his job but doesn’t like it. With her daughter spending the school year in America and with no work for her to do in the house, Lina has become a taitai, a rich woman whose only function is to look pretty, and gossip with friends. Daughter Karen has no real place in her home, since it is only her home for a few months of the year. Spoiled and lonely, she latches unto Sunny as a lifeline.When Qiang, Wei’s long-lost brother, reconnects with the Zhens, he sets off a quiet chain of events which makes them question whether what they have has been worth the sacrifices they made to get it. See the rest of my review at https://allaboutromance.com/book-revi...
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  • Andrea
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.3.5. I wanted/hoped for more. I may eventually reconsider and round up, but...I typically love/look forward to this genre. But I felt it was somewhat disjointed and choppy. I wanted more of some stories, less of others. When it was good, it was excellent. But it often felt flat. Nonetheless, well-written [no prose had me cringing] and certainly impressive for a debut novel The setting--a back and forth --beginning outside Shang I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.3.5. I wanted/hoped for more. I may eventually reconsider and round up, but...I typically love/look forward to this genre. But I felt it was somewhat disjointed and choppy. I wanted more of some stories, less of others. When it was good, it was excellent. But it often felt flat. Nonetheless, well-written [no prose had me cringing] and certainly impressive for a debut novel The setting--a back and forth --beginning outside Shanghai, 1988, and then moving to 2010."From a silk-producing village in rural China, up the corporate ladder in suburban America, and back again to the post-Maoist nouveau riche of modern Shanghai." "After years of chasing the American dream, the Zhen family has moved back to China. Settling into a luxurious serviced apartment in Shanghai, Wei, Lina and their daughter, Karen, join an elite community of Chinese-born, Western-educated professionals ..." "... Lina, lonely in her new life of leisure, assumes the modern moniker tai tai-a housewife who does no housework at all. She spends her days haunted by the circumstances surrounding her arranged marriage to Wei and her lingering feelings for his brother, Qiang." And lastly, "...Sunny [housekeeper, then ayi], a hardworking woman with secrets of her own, bears witness to their struggles." And so, the disconnect begins.The descriptions of how the Zhen family did or didn't fit in are wonderful and shed a light on that community. I liked the time spent with Wei, more than that with Lina [for the most part]. And I particularly liked Sunny and felt her well drawn [I wanted more]. Many humorous phrases had me chuckling. "...when she tried on makeup, her face looked like a territory under siege."misunderstanding the Pledge of Allegiance-- ""...to the republic of witches' hands..."a "circular conversationalist""...silver serving trays with lids like astronaut helmets...""...she watched the Zhens navigate conversations as they would a minefield."and the whole section on Wei helping Karen navigate using a tampon when she got her period for the first time. [Consider: "There was also somtheing seedy about contoured tip and finger grip."But there is much seriousness--all well done. The description of Sunny's life. The story of Lina's father's reeducation [because of the Cultural Revolution]. Sometimes this back and forth seemed too choppy. The many details of the various characters' lives provide a realistic glimpse into that community. The observations of life--politics, progress, differences between their lives in the US and then when returned to China--their privilieges, seemingly silly dilemmas--all vividly portrayed.One particular [minor] issue for me was Karen, the daughter--she seemed older than a preteen.So, a cautious recommendation.
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  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    Thanks to the publisher, via Netgalley, for an advance e-galley for an honest review!3.5ish stars, rounded up. This book was really excellent when it was telling the story about Lina, Wei, and Qiang and their connection and lives growing up. The story really took its time revealing the secrets between the adults, and when the ultimate story is dropped, it was worth the wait. The last quarter of so of the book, in general, is worth the wait that it takes to get there. There is a great sense of an Thanks to the publisher, via Netgalley, for an advance e-galley for an honest review!3.5ish stars, rounded up. This book was really excellent when it was telling the story about Lina, Wei, and Qiang and their connection and lives growing up. The story really took its time revealing the secrets between the adults, and when the ultimate story is dropped, it was worth the wait. The last quarter of so of the book, in general, is worth the wait that it takes to get there. There is a great sense of anticipation as it's unclear exactly what transpired between the three adults to bring them where they are now. At times though, it was hard to invest in their current situation, and one storyline I would have loved to hear more about was Wei and the television show. A really solid, interesting debut!
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  • Jaclyn
    January 1, 1970
    I love that this book is about a Chinese family who moved to America, then back to China. I don't think I've read many books that tackled that awkwardness of being back home, but it's no longer quite home anymore.I liked the family tensions with the long-lost brother, how the move to America and class differences in both brothers' lives have coloured that tension, and how the family ayi Sunny can see it all happening. I wish there had been more closure with the ending. I'm also not sure how I fe I love that this book is about a Chinese family who moved to America, then back to China. I don't think I've read many books that tackled that awkwardness of being back home, but it's no longer quite home anymore.I liked the family tensions with the long-lost brother, how the move to America and class differences in both brothers' lives have coloured that tension, and how the family ayi Sunny can see it all happening. I wish there had been more closure with the ending. I'm also not sure how I feel about the truth behind something that happened twenty years ago -- on one hand, it makes a lot of sense, on the other it also feels somewhat a copout for the emotional drama.
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  • Renee
    January 1, 1970
    What We Were Promised is a family saga, of sorts, and chock-full of d-r-a-m-a. Tan crafts a story around the Zhen family: Wei and Lina grew up in China before moving to America to pursue lofty dreams of higher education and corporate success. After twenty-some years, the couple has returned to their motherland, a couple decades older and joined this time by their teenage daughter, Karen. During their years abroad, they accrued wealth and success, and Wei was offered the opportunity to oversee hi What We Were Promised is a family saga, of sorts, and chock-full of d-r-a-m-a. Tan crafts a story around the Zhen family: Wei and Lina grew up in China before moving to America to pursue lofty dreams of higher education and corporate success. After twenty-some years, the couple has returned to their motherland, a couple decades older and joined this time by their teenage daughter, Karen. During their years abroad, they accrued wealth and success, and Wei was offered the opportunity to oversee his budding company's newly-opened Shanghai-branch. They move into an elite hotel community at Lanson Suites, where their laundry, cooking, and cleaning are all accomplished by staff members and Lina doesn't have to lift a finger to do more than shop for extravagant clothes and accessories. Karen spends most of the year in America at an elite boarding school, but summers with her parents in a land that is completely foreign to her.The family lives together, but each person seems to occupy a separate sphere of existence, interacting superficially at mealtimes (when Wei makes it home in time) and during rare moments of collective free time. At first glance, I chalked the characters up as superficial; but after deeper reflections on Wei and Lina's complicated early relationship, I began to see the characters as complex -- albeit often shallow -- and savored the unwinding of their histories and present lives.Woven into the narrative of the Zhen family's daily life, in poignant juxtaposition, is the telling of Sunny's experiences as first the family's maid, and later, their ayi (nanny). Sunny is an anomaly: she's in her late twenties/early thirties (her age is a bit ambiguous) and although she was married once before, she lives a simple, work-driven life as a single woman -- childless, no less -- in a society that seems to value women more when they are homemakers and wives and mothers. Sunny's observations bring another dimension to What We Were Promised, offering readers a juicy (and often, maddening) outsider evaluation of the Zhen household.While this book didn't quite shake me as much as I expected it to, I did find a great deal to appreciate in Tan's work. Her themes of cultural displacement + collective identity gave WWWP a dimension I didn't think I'd find at the onset of the novel. The family dynamic (or quiet dysfunction, if you will), combined with the bitter taste of rotting dreams, created an atmosphere of regret and desire that made this book a compelling read.Overall: 4 stars. Read this one if you're a fan of family dramas and stories that span cultures. What We Were Promised is in the vein of The Leavers (think the desire to belong coupled with unfulfilling life choices) and Winter Garden (think tension, unresolved pasts, and sibling rivalry/competition/contempt).
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  • Connie
    January 1, 1970
    I find it hard to believe that is Lucy Tan’s debut novel. The story was interesting and complex enough that it held my attention, and I loved the author’s style of writing. It all fits together well. Tan does a wonderful job of portraying a couple who were born and raised in China, lived in the United States for a number of years, and then moved back to China. The characterization was very good. Not only did I get to know the people in the book, I also felt as if I could feel what they were feel I find it hard to believe that is Lucy Tan’s debut novel. The story was interesting and complex enough that it held my attention, and I loved the author’s style of writing. It all fits together well. Tan does a wonderful job of portraying a couple who were born and raised in China, lived in the United States for a number of years, and then moved back to China. The characterization was very good. Not only did I get to know the people in the book, I also felt as if I could feel what they were feeling. However, I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and didn’t really like them. The main characters are: Wei, the rich husband who works all the time and has pretty much lost touch with his family; Ling, his bored wife who can’t stop thinking about what could have been; Karen, their spoiled teenaged daughter who is home from her American school for the summer; Sunny, their maid/ nanny for Karen; Rose, the maid who is irritated by the fact that she has to work hard while the rich are idle; and Qiong, Wei’s bad boy brother whom Ling cared a lot for and who vanished for twenty years when she married his brother. (That sounds a little more soap-opera-ish than it actually is.) A good bit of the book is taken up by Ling’s feelings for Qiong. I was very impressed by the fact that by the halfway point the author didn’t resort to sex or bad language, but then she threw some in. There is a sex scene, and for some odd reason, one of the people uncharacteristically used a word that dishonored God. These things were so unnecessary. I‘m also not sure what the title has to do with the book. What were they promised?
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  • Oscar (books_tea1)
    January 1, 1970
    This book is one that I’m never really going to forget in a long time. It truly has been one of the best books I have read this year. It’s a page turner all the way through and I could not put it down at all since I started it. Truthfully, it took me three days to finish it and I loved every single hour that I spent on it. What We Were Promised, by Lucy Tan, was one of my most anticipated books this year to read so my expectations for it were really high starting it. However, I got more than I w This book is one that I’m never really going to forget in a long time. It truly has been one of the best books I have read this year. It’s a page turner all the way through and I could not put it down at all since I started it. Truthfully, it took me three days to finish it and I loved every single hour that I spent on it. What We Were Promised, by Lucy Tan, was one of my most anticipated books this year to read so my expectations for it were really high starting it. However, I got more than I was asking for while reading it. Honestly, I have had so many chills reading this book that they were countless. One of the things I liked most about this book was the powerful themes throughout the novel that made me look at life in a more meaningful way. Themes like family, love, and where home is has touched the bottom of my heart. The characters were executed in a way that I’m never going to forget because they were so transparent and relatable. I’m never going to forget Lina and Sunny’s characters, they are forever in the back of my mind. I applaud Lucy Tan’s writing because she made me feel different types of emotions and also taught me something with her exceptional writing skills. To summarize, Lucy Tan’s writing felt like poetry, every single chapter was meaningful. I loved, loved, loved, loved this book and recommend it to people that are having trouble with love, home, and family. This book is so relatable and compelling. Finally, I want to thanks Little Brown and Company for sending me an Advance Reader’s Copy of this magnificent novel.
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  • Stephanie
    January 1, 1970
    Thanks to Little, Brown for the free review copy!After reading several books in a row that were just fine but not outstanding, this was such a welcome relief. It's that perfect blend between literary complexity and simple storytelling - beautiful and moving, but still so readable and page-turner-y. It's set in Shanghai, where Wei and Lina have returned to China after years in the US to join the wealthy upper crust. All is not well as they settle into their new life - secrets from the past start Thanks to Little, Brown for the free review copy!After reading several books in a row that were just fine but not outstanding, this was such a welcome relief. It's that perfect blend between literary complexity and simple storytelling - beautiful and moving, but still so readable and page-turner-y. It's set in Shanghai, where Wei and Lina have returned to China after years in the US to join the wealthy upper crust. All is not well as they settle into their new life - secrets from the past start to bubble into the present.I expected this novel to be just about the elite class, so was pleasantly surprised to find that Wei and Lina's narratives are just one half of the book. The other half is about Sunny, a staff member (housekeeper, nanny) for the family. Through her eyes and through backstory of the other characters, Tan sharpens the image of Shanghai and China. Both story lines complement each other in such an effortless way (sometimes the upstairs/downstairs trick can get a little obnoxious, but not here).Flawed characters you want to root for, class structure, the struggles of modern China, the nature of love, a kind of family saga, finding your place in the world... all so well balanced. Definitely putting Lucy Tan on my "automatic library hold" author list.
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  • Susan
    January 1, 1970
    To repay a debt, Lina was promised in marriage to Wei. For an American, I was mentally prepared for this book to take place last century, but it wasn't. Actions by individuals and the Chinese government during the Cultural Revolution placed Lina's father in debt to Wei's father. Lina we the repayment for that favor. Other than this culturally based foundation for their relationship, this story could have read like almost any other family saga. But through the course of the book, Ms. Tan reveals To repay a debt, Lina was promised in marriage to Wei. For an American, I was mentally prepared for this book to take place last century, but it wasn't. Actions by individuals and the Chinese government during the Cultural Revolution placed Lina's father in debt to Wei's father. Lina we the repayment for that favor. Other than this culturally based foundation for their relationship, this story could have read like almost any other family saga. But through the course of the book, Ms. Tan reveals the hidden cracks in their relationship and household and wonder if this is a similar situation for many modern Chinese wealthy families. I enjoyed how the narration shifted to give the reader the full perspective while the characters themselves struggled through situations. I look forward to seeing what Ms. Tan chooses to write about next.A copy of this book was provided by NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Caleb Masters
    January 1, 1970
    An impressive debut novel the expertly weaves together two parallel narratives to great effect. The first tells the story of the Zhen family moving back to China after decades in America and their struggles navigating this new, bustling Shanghai which feels so far removed from the post-Great Leap Forward poverty of their childhood villages. Further complicating matters for the Zhens is the sudden reappearance of a long-lost brother whom the family hasn't seen for years. The second story follows An impressive debut novel the expertly weaves together two parallel narratives to great effect. The first tells the story of the Zhen family moving back to China after decades in America and their struggles navigating this new, bustling Shanghai which feels so far removed from the post-Great Leap Forward poverty of their childhood villages. Further complicating matters for the Zhens is the sudden reappearance of a long-lost brother whom the family hasn't seen for years. The second story follows Sunny, the Zhen's maid and nanny, a young widow building a new life and identity in the big city. "What We Were Promised" offers the reader an excellent look at modern day China; a nation grappling with rapid change and the weight of tradition - which is mirrored in the lives of Tan's characters. The novel expertly reflects on questions of regret and roads left untraveled as well as the promise of what lies ahead. An immensely satisfying read!
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  • Chain Reading
    January 1, 1970
    As a citizen of Vancouver, my day to day life is full of acquaintances who move back and forth between Canada and China. I know a fair bit about what their life is like here, but little about what their life is like back in China, so I really enjoyed this book. It's set in Shanghai, and featuring a married couple, Wei and Lina, who left China for America in their 20s and returned and their 40s, along with Wei's brother Qiang, their daughter Karen, and their maid and nanny, Sunny. Tan does a grea As a citizen of Vancouver, my day to day life is full of acquaintances who move back and forth between Canada and China. I know a fair bit about what their life is like here, but little about what their life is like back in China, so I really enjoyed this book. It's set in Shanghai, and featuring a married couple, Wei and Lina, who left China for America in their 20s and returned and their 40s, along with Wei's brother Qiang, their daughter Karen, and their maid and nanny, Sunny. Tan does a great job of making all the characters sympathetic but imperfect, and of introducing small surprises all along the way. I also really loved the last paragraph of this book - though the events of the novel don't wrap up in an especially tidy way, the last paragraph is almost an epigraph that makes it feel complete, and I thought that really worked.
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  • Herminia Chow
    January 1, 1970
    About the book: It's a debut novel about a family who returns to Shanghai after trying to chase the American dream in the United States.I received a free copy from Hachette in exchange for an honest review.First impressions: I felt excited to read a novel about Chinese characters written by a Chinese author. I expected I'd be able to relate.I love the title and cover page. It took me a few chapters to get into the story though.Characters: Wei, Lina, and Qiang grew on me. They're all flawed, but About the book: It's a debut novel about a family who returns to Shanghai after trying to chase the American dream in the United States.I received a free copy from Hachette in exchange for an honest review.First impressions: I felt excited to read a novel about Chinese characters written by a Chinese author. I expected I'd be able to relate.I love the title and cover page. It took me a few chapters to get into the story though.Characters: Wei, Lina, and Qiang grew on me. They're all flawed, but they're hard to hate. Wei Zhen is married to Lina, but she has feelings for Wei's brother, Qiang, who left home years ago. Sunny is a housekeeper and later she gets hired by the Zhens to look after their daughter, Karen. The adults have interesting issues to say the least."Why do our minds fixate on the kinds of love we're not getting instead of the kinds of love we are?"Writing: In both the exposition and dialogue, Tan includes some words written in pinyin, which get repeated throughout the book. I understood most of them. The author offers an English translation or enough context to decipher the meaning. She describes the scenes well, including a lot of detail.I think the nature of the story calls for more telling than showing. That being said, I would've liked more of the latter.Final thoughts: My favourite part of the story is the ending. The characters confront the past and everything finally made a lot of sense. Overall, I think the novel increased my knowledge of Chinese culture and customs.I recommend What We Were Promised to fans of contemporary reads about families. If you know Mandarin and pinyin, you'll recognize certain words in addition to what they mean. Even if you don't, the writing is still accessible.
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  • Sam
    January 1, 1970
    The characters were engaging and fully developed and I enjoyed reading each of their perspectives in short alternating chapters. Although it references the historic repression in China, this is not a novel with a lot of "action," but it is an engrossing story and an extremely well written character study which reveals the layers of class in modern China.
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  • Shelley
    January 1, 1970
    Recommended. This novel is about leaving (the country, China, and the US) and returning (home, to family), and is told from several points of view; it moves back and forth in time without any loss of narrative thread. It probably has one or two too many viewpoint characters IMHO, but it's still quite good.
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  • Jordan
    January 1, 1970
    Super mixed feelings about this one. Right now I'm feeling it's a 3.5 for me.
  • Rochelle
    January 1, 1970
    I enjoyed reading this book about family, secrets, loyalty and Chinese culture. The writing was beautiful and descriptive and the different characters’s perspectives helped in understanding more about the Chinese culture. There are many different themes that could be discussed in a book club.Thanks you to the Goodreads Giveaway program for my copy of this book.
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    I really liked this book, but I didn't love it. I received this book for free as a Goodreads Giveaway. The writing was fluid and the story was interesting. My one complaint is that I never felt connected to any of the characters. It wasn't until the last fourth of the book that the reader gets a glimpse of who the characters really were and how they felt, and the reasons they made the choices that they did. I believe that this is the author's first book ~ I look forward to seeing what the author I really liked this book, but I didn't love it. I received this book for free as a Goodreads Giveaway. The writing was fluid and the story was interesting. My one complaint is that I never felt connected to any of the characters. It wasn't until the last fourth of the book that the reader gets a glimpse of who the characters really were and how they felt, and the reasons they made the choices that they did. I believe that this is the author's first book ~ I look forward to seeing what the author comes out with in the future!
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  • Rebecca Akins
    January 1, 1970
    This book was very well written and the author did a great job of weaving the story together. I have this book 3 stars because the story did not hold my attention. I found myself getting distracted while reading and I wasn’t excited to find out what would happen next. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about family dynamics and multicultural families.I received this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway. This in no way affects my review.
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  • Lynne
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 starsThe story follows the lives of Wei and Lina Zhen in addition to the woman who becomes their housekeeper, Sunny. While the focus is on the Zhens, there is enough of Sunny's backstory to fully flesh out her character development. Each the characters' stories are told by an omniscient narrator which lends itself well to the reader who is getting a glimpse behind the "doors" of one family among the many who live in the luxury apartments...Read the full review here: https://wp.me/p36jwx-1ml
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