Wei and Lina grew up in China, the children of a peasant and a reeducated professor, respectively, but through a combination of luck and talent, they wound up on a graduate scholarship to the United States. Now they’re back in Shanghai, where Wei is a corporate manager and Lina is a Taitai, a housewife who really doesn’t do any housework. They may not have forgotten their roots, but their daughter Karen is not Chinese, she’s Chinese American, and returning to her homeland isn’t going to change that. The Zhens are also in for a surprise – Wei’s brother Qiang has just been in touch after disappearing years ago, and you know he has some unfinished business. The story is from the alternating perspectives of Wei, Lina, and their maid Sunny, who despite their apparent class chasms, isn’t really that different from them at all. I really enjoyed this – the story is quiet but filled with gentle humor and the characters engaging, even when they are maddening.— Daniel Goldin
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 treasured ivory bracelet has gone missing. This incident sets off a wave of unease that ripples 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 is haunted by the circumstances surrounding her arranged marriage to Wei and her lingering feelings for his brother, Qiang. Sunny, the family's housekeeper, is a keen but silent observer of these tensions. An unmarried woman trying to carve a place for herself in society, she understands the power of well-kept secrets. When Qiang reappears in Shanghai after decades on the run with a local gang, the family must finally come to terms with the past and its indelible mark on their futures.
From a silk-producing village in rural China, up the corporate ladder in suburban America, and back again to the post-Maoist nouveaux riches of modern Shanghai, What We Were Promised explores the question of what we owe to our country, our families, and ourselves.
About the Author
"What We Were Promised glows through its intimate, skillful prose. Tan's debut is a beautiful reckoning with the ever-changing definition of "home" - what it means to have, lose and find family again."—USA Today
set of fascinating characters, Tan delivers a compelling story that raises
questions about assimilation, family dynamics, and the personal reverberations
"Winner of Ploughshares' Emerging Writer award, Lucy Tan draws an astute portrait of a staid family thrown into disarray in this assured first novel. She does not explore the Tolstoyan adage of unhappy families, but rather throws a stone into the still pool of carefully balanced domesticity. With its measuring of expectation against reality, What We Were Promised showcases Tan's sharp eye for the intricacies of human relationships."—Shelf Awareness
"Fans of Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians series will especially enjoy What We Were Promised."—Refinery29
measured voice of an expert craftsperson, Lucy Tan's WHAT WE WERE PROMISED is
an exquisite exploration of class, family and self."
novel. Set in Shanghai, made empathic with a multigenerational family saga,
embellished with timeless class conflict, this story entertains and
"The ultimate message of What We Were Promised is one all young, millennial readers can relate to."—Bustle
jumps across decades and continents, it throws the rural villages and urban
skylines, as well as the lives of the locals and aloof expatriates, into sharp
relief. . . . All the while, Tan asks what it means to belong-to a person or a
contemporary global backdrop, made empathic with a multigenerational family
saga, embellished with timeless servant/master (and mistress) class conflict,
Tan's debut will be entertaining - and enlightening - to savvy cosmopolitan
readers throughout the summer and beyond."
"Fans of Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians series will especially enjoy What We Were Promised, which takes place among a similar social set."—Refinery 29
author to watch"
very memorable cast of characters... A compelling, sensitive and thoughtful debut
that is sure to move you."
"With its measuring of expectation against reality, What We Were Promised establishes Tan as a new talent with a sharp eye for the intricacies of human relationships."—Shelf Awareness
will strike a chord with anyone who looks to the future with uncertainty."
love reading about complicated family dynamics and transitional periods, this
book will provide fodder for great conversations
of class, culture, regret, and anxiety about the road not taken."
will resonate with anyone who is uncertain and fearful about their future."
with one or more of the characters as they deal with historic cultural norms
and modern reality
"Tan's talent as a storyteller clearly shines through her strong plot lines and characterization; readers will want to know more about each well-crafted player in the story . . . . A novel of class, culture, and expectations; readers who enjoyed works like Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians will likely find Tan's surprising and down-to-earth tale an entertaining read."—Library Journal
"I read What We Were Promised in a state of enchantment, immediately drawn into the longings, secrets and very human foibles of its finely-drawn cast of characters. Both intimate and panoramic, Lucy Tan's debut is a revealing consideration of modern China as well as a thrilling discovery of the generations-long secrets between two families. Compassionate and heartbreaking, funny and wise, local and universal, What We Were Promised marks the arrival of an inspiring new voice."—Chloe Benjamin, author of The Anatomy of Dreams and The Immortalists
"Lucy Tan brings to vibrant life the self-made, newly cosmopolitan Zhens, who have gone from the tea fields and silk factories of small town China to the luxury high rises of Shanghai in one generation. Abounding in insight and deftly told, What We Were Promised is a story both sweeping and intimate, as this most modern of families discovers they must confront their past in order to find their future. "—Maggie Shipstead, author of Seating Arrangements and Astonish Me
"What We Were Promised is a big beautiful novel. Lucy Tan's dazzling debut grapples with the persistence of the past, the inevitability of the present, and the difficulty of balancing individuality with community."—Hannah Pittard, author of Visible Empire and Listen to Me
"In What We Were Promised, Tan skillfully brings to life the issues of modern day China and Shanghai. It is an immigrant story but one that also delves into the subject of going back to one's homeland. Tan humanizes each and every one of her characters. There is also depth to how the stories of past and present are interwoven. As a reader I felt that I was in good hands."—Weike Wang, author of Chemistry
"What We Were Promised is like being let into the heads of the characters in a C-drama... From its first page the novel promises a mix of emotion and intellect, plot and cultural critique, and it delivers. These characters are deeply understood and deeply felt, and the conflicts they get themselves into will keep you up at night turning pages. By the end of What We Were Promised you will agree that the real promise belongs to its debut author. Put Lucy Tan on your literary radar now."—Matthew Salesses, author of The Hundred-Year Flood
quietly brilliant book, and a truly singular debut."
beautifully rendered debut with vivid characters who will stay with readers
long after the last satisfying page."
splendor of modern Shanghai come to life in Lucy Tan's debut novel."
"If you love explorations of the American dream transplanted in Shanghai, generational sagas, and the lives of the newly rich and confused, read What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan."—Lillian Li, author of Number One Chinese Restaurant
"What We Were Promised explores the question of what we owe to our country, our families, and ourselves." (—Five Spot Green Living
written, evocative and provocative narrative."
dynamic, and gender roles plague the characters and they must ponder, what
'they owe to themselves, each other, and their country."
literary heft and timely social commentary, but it's also a thoroughly
enthralling and deeply moving novel"