*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: What We Were Promised
Author: Lucy Tan
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: July 10, 2018
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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 childhood keepsake, an ivory bracelet, has gone missing. The incident contributes to a wave of unease that has begun to settle 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 spends her days haunted by the circumstances surrounding her arranged marriage to Wei and her lingering feelings for his brother, Qiang. Lina and Wei take pains to hide their anxieties, but their housekeeper, Sunny, a hardworking girl with secrets of her own, bears witness to their struggles. When Qiang reappears in Shanghai after decades on the run with a local gang, the family must finally come to terms with the past.
I’m feeling really torn about this book. I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. I enjoyed the story and I think there were lots of complicated emotions and themes explored throughout, however I wasn’t wowed or blown away by the story. I walked away from this book after a good read, but there’s nothing spectacular that I feel really made this a must-read book for me. It’s a story of the Zhen family: Lina, Wei, and Karen, as well as Wei’s brother Qiang. This book explores their past, as children and young adults, and again in the present moment as adults. In contrast to the Zhen’s, the story also explores the life of their housemaid and then nanny, Sunny. Told from various points of view, Tan’s book shares issues of class, immigration, loss, family, friendship, and so much more. This book explores how things are never as clear as they appear to be on the surface, and there is almost always a hidden story to discover.
I enjoyed the various perspectives in this book. I felt like having the different voices really gives the reader an inside look at each of the characters. We’re able to understand the characters on a much deeper and more personal level. I’m so glad that Tan chose this format for What We Were Promised. There aren’t too many characters, so it’s not overwhelming in any way. Instead, it creates a unique style and voice for this tale to be told. We get to see inside and outside views of the Zhen family, to see their judgements of themselves and others, and to see others’ judgements of them. We can see how the truth can be bent and distorted in so many ways, and how people can really come together in times of need.
What I didn’t love is that I didn’t feel like any of the characters were particularly memorable. They felt very stock to me and while they had well written and unique voices from one another, the characters really we’re exactly what you’d expect them to be. I found it to be pleasant but not incredible.
Overall, I would say it’s a good book that’s quick and easy to read, but it’s not life changing. I came out in the middle of the road with this one. I neither loved nor hated it. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it a bit better than I did.