Bury What We Cannot Take
The day nine-year-old San San and her twelve-year-old brother, Ah Liam, discover their grandmother taking a hammer to a framed portrait of Chairman Mao is the day that forever changes their lives. To prove his loyalty to the Party, Ah Liam reports his grandmother to the authorities. But his belief in doing the right thing sets in motion a terrible chain of events.Now they must flee their home on Drum Wave Islet, which sits just a few hundred meters across the channel from mainland China. But when their mother goes to procure visas for safe passage to Hong Kong, the government will only issue them on the condition that she leave behind one of her children as proof of the family’s intention to return.

Bury What We Cannot Take Details

TitleBury What We Cannot Take
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMar 20th, 2018
PublisherLittle A
ISBN-139781542049702
Rating
GenreFiction, Historical, Historical Fiction, Cultural, China, Asia

Bury What We Cannot Take Review

  • Rosh
    January 1, 1970
    This book painted a painful picture of communism in China when the borders closed and the awful choices a family might have to make to get out of there. Did I like it? It was decent but I appreciat the story and intention of the author behind it.
  • Rachel
    January 1, 1970
    Bury What We Cannot Take is a captivating novel about one family's attempt to flee from Communist China in 1957. Having been granted only 3 travel visas to Hong Kong for 4 family members, Seok Koon is forced to leave one of her children behind in order to legally exit the country, and Kirsten Chen explores the ramifications of this harrowing decision.Bury What We Cannot Take is actually everything I had hoped Girls Burn Brighter was going to be. Both novels follow two parties which have been sep Bury What We Cannot Take is a captivating novel about one family's attempt to flee from Communist China in 1957. Having been granted only 3 travel visas to Hong Kong for 4 family members, Seok Koon is forced to leave one of her children behind in order to legally exit the country, and Kirsten Chen explores the ramifications of this harrowing decision.Bury What We Cannot Take is actually everything I had hoped Girls Burn Brighter was going to be. Both novels follow two parties which have been separated and which spend the novel seeking a reunion, and in both cases, these stories are filled to the brim with tragedy. But where Girls Burn Brighter indulges (at least in my opinion) a bit too heavily in the gruesome details of its characters' plights, Bury What We Cannot Take is more interested in the kind of resilience needed to survive. Though the chapters which follow the left-behind child can be difficult to read, I felt that the narrative was approached with sensitivity, and it quickly earned my emotional investment. This novel is deceptively short for 300 pages, and as a result, my only complaint is that at times it felt a bit rushed. Though I loved how compelling and immersive it was - I think I read 20% in one sitting and then finished it in another sitting the next day - certain plot points were glossed over, and I wouldn't have minded spending a bit more time with the Ong family.But ultimately, I really enjoyed this. It's a fantastic look at Communist China and its insidious regime, which follows a host of complex, sympathetic characters aged across multiple generations. Though I hadn't heard of Kirsten Chen before this, I'll definitely be looking into anything she writes in the future.Thank you to Netgalley, Little A, and Kirsten Chen for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Afoma Umesi
    January 1, 1970
    This is one of those books whose titles grabbed me before anything else. I'm pleased to report that the rest of the book is just as evocative as that title. In Maoist China, twelve year old Ah Liam reports his grandmother for vandalizing a portrait of Chairman Mao and so starts a terrible chain of events. The family attempts to flee China, but in a heartbreaking plot twist, they are can only take one child. The novel follows the consequences of the devastating choice, Seok Koon (the mother) make This is one of those books whose titles grabbed me before anything else. I'm pleased to report that the rest of the book is just as evocative as that title. In Maoist China, twelve year old Ah Liam reports his grandmother for vandalizing a portrait of Chairman Mao and so starts a terrible chain of events. The family attempts to flee China, but in a heartbreaking plot twist, they are can only take one child. The novel follows the consequences of the devastating choice, Seok Koon (the mother) makes.The story is dramatic and despite bearing the burden of multiple intersecting characters and subplots, it remains fast-paced. From a third person POV, Chen shows great mastery of a child's voice and San San's character anchors the story excellently. This sophomore novel lucidly captures the plight of the girl child, Chinese history and heartbreaking betrayal. Utterly mesmerizing from the first sentence, Bury What We Cannot Take paints a portrait of family shaken by a grave mistake, the results of which will linger after the story ends. This is what makes the book spectacular.Kirstin Chen's Bury What We Cannot Take is unsettling, vivid and compulsively readable. Highly recommended.Full review at http://www.afomaumesi.com/2018/03/23/... 
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  • Ingrid Contreras
    January 1, 1970
    In Bury What We Cannot Take, a misjudged moment of anger uproots a family. The very beginning of the novel finds twelve-year-old Ah-Liam and nine-year-old San San returning home from school to discover their grandmother kneeling before the family altar and crying, her skirt partially hiding a hammer. Overlooking the room is a portrait of Chairman Mao “smiling benevolently at all who gazed upon him, oblivious to the spiderweb of cracks that scarred him.”As recently as 2015, an individual defacing In Bury What We Cannot Take, a misjudged moment of anger uproots a family. The very beginning of the novel finds twelve-year-old Ah-Liam and nine-year-old San San returning home from school to discover their grandmother kneeling before the family altar and crying, her skirt partially hiding a hammer. Overlooking the room is a portrait of Chairman Mao “smiling benevolently at all who gazed upon him, oblivious to the spiderweb of cracks that scarred him.”As recently as 2015, an individual defacing a portrait of Chairman Mao faced a sentence of 14 months jail time. In Bury What We Cannot Take, Ah-Liam and San San imagine much more dire consequences. While San San tries to process her grandmother’s "treasonous capitalist act," her older brother Ah-Liam, fervent to become a member of the Maoist Youth League, writes to the party in secret to confess “the horrific manner in which his grandmother had insulted the Great Helmsman.”The Ong family tries a ruse to flee — but the government will only give an exit visa to one of the children, and the family is forced to choose who to leave behind, Ah-Liam or San San.This is just the first five chapters of the book — what follows is a page-turning drama of a divided family struggling to be free, both from capture and from their conscience.Chen is a precise writer, with enviable control on the page. Bury What We Cannot Take is completely immersive, and the only times I stepped out of the story was to admire the perfection of her word choice. In one instance she writes: “The heady scent of honeysuckle tickled San San’s nostrils, and her sneeze punctured the silence.” I find Chen’s choice of "puncture," so close to "honeysuckle," to be absolutely enchanting. And here’s another majestic precision: “With her back pressed to the high stone wall lining the street, she crab stepped down the hill.” I’ve been equally pleased watching a puzzle piece fitting accurately into place.
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  • Shawn Mooney
    January 1, 1970
    It’s a harrowing story, set in China in 1957: a young boy reports his grandmother to the authorities for taking a hammer to a portrait of Chairman Mao. Unfortunately, the extremely weak characterization meant that, a fifth of the way in, I didn’t care about anyone or anything that was happening. I shall not be continuing. Great cover, though.
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  • Imi
    January 1, 1970
    I'll be reading Chen's debut Soy Sauce for Beginners before this (it's on the tbr soon pile!), but I really enjoyed this article about the author's concern on whether she had the right to write the story she was planning for this, her sophomore novel: Am I Chinese Enough to Tell This Story? - https://lithub.com/am-i-chinese-enoug...
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  • Atheinne
    January 1, 1970
    Provided only three permits/visas available given to a family of four, which family members would you bring with you to a place far from the rule of communism? Your choices are:A. Your mother-in-law (grandmother of your children)B. Your first child (son)C. Your second child (daughter)In the case of Soo Keon, mother and daughter-in-law, she chose Bee Kim and Ah Liam, believing that within a few days time, little San San would rejoin them on the other side. Unfortunately, the circumstances wouldn' Provided only three permits/visas available given to a family of four, which family members would you bring with you to a place far from the rule of communism? Your choices are:A. Your mother-in-law (grandmother of your children)B. Your first child (son)C. Your second child (daughter)In the case of Soo Keon, mother and daughter-in-law, she chose Bee Kim and Ah Liam, believing that within a few days time, little San San would rejoin them on the other side. Unfortunately, the circumstances wouldn't have it her way.Set in China, Bury What We Cannot Take, by Kirstin Chen, is a story of many things: the struggles of a family, the burden of secrets, forgiveness and letting go of anger, oppression, loss of innocence, and survival.What I liked most about the book is the role of San San and her perseverance. At the age of 9, she is faced with so much challenge that she is left to trust only herself. With her relentless will to be with her family, to be in her mother's arms once again, she made use of her wit to fight through, to live, to survive. Not even hunger can stop her. Her transformation in the story is flawless and that is what I admired the most about her. From riches to rags, this girl just slayed the dragons of life!While I enjoyed most of the book, I found the ending to be slightly off. It felt a bit insufficient in meaning. Other than that, the book is close to being impeccable.This book is admirable and if you're one for historical stories set in Asia, then here's a fitting book for you!
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  • Columbus
    January 1, 1970
    I absolutely devoured the first 60 percent of this tale set in 1957 communist China. A family seeking to flee an islet bordering China to Hong Kong after an unfortunate incident by one of the family members. Only three travel visas are allowed to insure that the family returns back to China. The book was really captivating and the writing rather strong with mentions of communism, Chairman Mao, radicalism etc.... But, then this quite interesting, serious story morphed into a sort of mundane, lit I absolutely devoured the first 60 percent of this tale set in 1957 communist China. A family seeking to flee an islet bordering China to Hong Kong after an unfortunate incident by one of the family members. Only three travel visas are allowed to insure that the family returns back to China. The book was really captivating and the writing rather strong with mentions of communism, Chairman Mao, radicalism etc.... But, then this quite interesting, serious story morphed into a sort of mundane, lite, easy reading selection. There’s nothing wrong with lite, easy reading if that’s what you sign up for and it doesn’t segue into something completely different 60% of the way in. The first half and second half were two divergent visions, or appeared to be. Like the author didn’t quite know what she wanted the book to do.Goodness, and I started out praising this book to everyone who would listen. Guess for now on I’ll wait til I complete the book.
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  • Jacqueline
    January 1, 1970
    I look forward to reading more works by this author. Captivating story, well-written and interesting characters, but it did feel a bit too short and surface level. I feel like most of the time long books could be much shorter, but in this case I feel like this book should have been longer. Nonetheless I enjoyed the family dynamics, character arcs, and story of censorship and repression in Maoist China.
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  • juddy18
    January 1, 1970
    Great book! I received an ARC in advance of interviewing her for a student-run blog and really enjoyed the riveting story!
  • Annie
    January 1, 1970
    There are some decisions that one should not overthink. Then there others that absolutely require long deliberation. Ong Seok Koon’s mistake at the beginning of Bury What We Cannot Take, by Kirstin Chen, is that she makes a very important decision without any thought at all. She and her family pay for that mistake for months. It’s only through the sheerest luck that they manage to survive that one bad decision...Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book fr There are some decisions that one should not overthink. Then there others that absolutely require long deliberation. Ong Seok Koon’s mistake at the beginning of Bury What We Cannot Take, by Kirstin Chen, is that she makes a very important decision without any thought at all. She and her family pay for that mistake for months. It’s only through the sheerest luck that they manage to survive that one bad decision...Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.
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  • Vanessa Hua
    January 1, 1970
    An incredible tale of survival and loss, against the backdrop of a lesser-known period of Chinese history. I was a huge fan of Chen's SOY SAUCE FOR BEGINNERS, which had a contemporary setting, in Singapore, and I was eager to read this novel. I was totally swept up in the fate of this family -- it's lyrical, intimate, and insightful and yet it's also a page turner. The shifting POV helps us understand the complicated choices that each character makes. The perfect book club pick!
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  • Ethel Rohan
    January 1, 1970
    This novel's title, cover and prose are a class act. It's a gripping, heartfelt story set against the backdrop of Maoist China. The horrors of that communist regime are efficiently and effectively rendered and left me hurting at our capacity for cruelty and inhumanity. The wealth of details are vivid and visceral and brought both place and people alive. I wanted more in terms of character motivation and the novel's close, but am so glad to have read this fine work.
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  • Marian
    January 1, 1970
    A gripping story.Ah, that poor family. And, my gosh, the resiliency and courage of San San. This book painted a terrible picture of communism in China when the borders closed and the awful choices a family might have to make to get out. I flew through this book and gladly recommend it.
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  • Kelly Gau
    January 1, 1970
    not the best, not the worst. That ending though....
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