Little Gods by Meng Jin [in Booklist]
The story starts at the end – “Today Su Lan begins to die” – and finishes at the beginning – “her new American life.” In between, multiple fragments pieced together from various points of view present an immigrant teenager’s quest to understand who she is, how she came to be, and how she’ll move forward alone.
Liya’s birth during the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre marks the cleaving of her parents’ marriage, her father’s disappearance, and the reversal of her mother Su Lan’s promising trajectory as a gifted physicist. Seventeen years later – “enough [time] to turn an infant into a woman, a Chinese into an American” – Su Lan is suddenly dead. In searching through the few fragments Su Lan left behind, Liya finds evidence of a past her mother intended to erase, prompting Liya to return to her birth country, which she barely remembers. What she finds upon arrival sets in motion the search for a father she’s never met.
With precocious dexterity, Meng Jin – Chinese-born, Harvard-educated, Brooklyn-based – adroitly privileges her readers with a haunting omniscience she denies her characters, giving voice to Liya’s first caregiver and the runaway stranger whose genes are Liya’s dubious legacy. Skillfully revealed, exquisitely rendered, Jin’s first novel undoubtedly presages future success.