The Leavers by Lisa Ko ** Blog Tour Review**
I feel honoured today to be taking part in the launch celebrations for Lisa Ko's UK publication of her acclaimed debut novel: The Leavers. Already published in the US where it won the 2016 Pen / Bellwether Prize for fiction, it followed that up by being selected as a 2017 finalist for The National Book Awards. It has won praise from many quarters. Here are just a few opinions:
'Imperative Reading' OPRAH'S BOOK CLUB
‘There was a time I would have called Lisa Ko’s novel beautifully written, ambitious and moving, and all of that is true, but it’s more than that now: if you want to understand a forgotten and essential part of the world we live in, The Leavers is required reading’ ANN PATCHETT
‘[The Leavers] uses the voices of both [a] boy and his birth mother to tell a story that unfolds in graceful, realistic fashion and defies expectations. Though it won last year’s PEN/Bellwether Award for Socially Engaged Fiction, Ko’s book is more far-reaching than that’ THE NEW YORK TIMES
So what's it about?
One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, goes to her job at a nail salon – and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.
With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. But far from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his adoptive parents’ desire that he assimilate, with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind.
Told from the perspective of both Daniel – as he grows into a directionless young man – and Polly, Ko’s novel gives us one of fiction’s most singular mothers. Loving and selfish, determined and frightened, Polly is forced to make one heart-wrenching choice after another.
Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid examination of borders and belonging. Of identity. It’s a moving story of how a boy comes into his own, when everything he loves is taken away, and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past.
This is striking writing which examines issues around belonging and identity. Brought up and adopted by an American couple, the Chinese American Deming (or Daniel as his new parents rename him) has to come to terms with the loss of his birth mother and his Chinese culture. We learn about life in America for his younger self and his mother who is there illegally and who disappears from his life.
The story is told through two perspectives, those of Deming (Daniel) and his mother, Pellan (Polly). Pellan's story is told through the first person whereas we hear Deming's story in the third person. There are some vivid accounts of life in New York and in China and it is fascinating to see where Deming's life takes him. I was particularly taken with the thoughts and reactions of Deming's parents. That is his birth mother and also his adoptive parents, Kay and Peter, who want him to be americanised and who seem to fear that they will lose him to his birth culture. Kay's anguish is conveyed through tiny details and all the more effective for that. You also sense Deming's anger and uncertainty as to how he really feels towards the parents who have brought him up. He does not seem to fit in to either culture.
There is a reflective tone to the book which includes the reader every step of the way.
In short: Disaffection, loss and separation envelop this story of a family split apart.
About the Author
Lisa Ko is the author of The Leavers, a novel which was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction and won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Her writing has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2016, The New York Times, Brooklyn Review, and extensively elsewhere. Lisa has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the MacDowell Colony, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, Writers OMI at Ledig House, the Jerome Foundation, Blue Mountain Center, the Van Lier Foundation, Hawthornden Castle, the I-Park Foundation, the Anderson Center, the Constance Saltonstall Foundation, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. Born in Queens and raised in Jersey, she lives in Brooklyn.
The Leavers is also the launch title for a new imprint from Little, Brown Book Group – Dialogue Books. Dialogue Books, spearheaded by Publisher, Sharmaine Lovegrove, is the home to a variety of stories from illuminating voices, often excluded from the mainstream. Stories for, about and by readers from the LGBTQI+, disability, working class and BAME communities.
Thanks to Lisa Ko, Grace Vincent of Little, Brown for a copy of the book and a place on the tour.
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