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Bury What We Cannot Take

A novel by

“Complex and rich, Chen’s story serves as a fascinating window into a unique period of history and the plight of one displaced family.” —Harper’s Bazaar

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.

Against the backdrop of early Maoist China, this captivating and emotional tale follows a brother, a sister, a father, and a mother as they grapple with their agonizing decision, its far-reaching consequences, and their hope for redemption.

Genre: Historical

Praise for this book

"In Maoist China, the family at the center of this propulsive, haunting story is fractured by the dazzlingly complex fallout of a single irrevocable act. This beautifully plotted, suspenseful, and deeply compassionate novel shows Kirstin Chen, whose work I’ve long admired, at her absolute finest. Bury What We Cannot Take is a vital book." - Laura van den Berg

"Bury What We Cannot Take explores what it takes to survive in a world gone mad—and what is lost when we do. Kirstin Chen has written both an engrossing historical drama and a nuanced exploration of how far the bonds of familial love can stretch." - Celeste Ng

"Bury What We Cannot Take fulfills the promise of Kirstin Chen’s debut. San San’s family flee Drum Wave Islet, leaving her behind. An epic story follows that explores gender roles, oppressive ideologies, sacrifice, and what it means to be free. All through the microcosm of one family. This is a book set in the past, on the other side of the world, that is more than relevant in today’s America. Chen delivers a page-turner that holds a historical mirror up to our fuzzy, complicit world." - Matthew Salesses

"This story will sweep you away. An utterly beautiful, entirely engrossing family saga. Chen writes betrayal and love with wisdom and nuance, attuned always to the complexities—personal, historical, cultural—of the human heart. Bury What We Cannot Take is an instant classic." - Claire Vaye Watkins

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