LUCY TAN author

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Longlisted for the 2018 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection

One of Amazon's "Best Books of July"

One of Publishers Weekly's "Best Books of Summer 2018"

One of Huffington Post's "60 Most Anticipated Reads of 2018"


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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.

From a silk-producing village in rural China, up the corporate ladder in suburban America, and back again to the post-Maoist nouveau riche of modern Shanghai, WHAT WE WERE PROMSED explores the question of what we owe to our country, our families, and ourselves.


"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

"A luminous family saga." Entertainment Weekly

"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

"Against 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 – savvy cosmopolitan readers throughout the summer and beyond." Christian Science Monitor

"The real joy of this book is getting lost in the characters, some of whom will remain with you long after you have finished the novel. Lucy Tan is an author to watch." Omnivorous: The Amazon Book Review

"As the narrative jumps across decades and continents, it throws the rural villages and urban skylines, as well as the lives of locals and aloof ex-patriates into sharp relief." TIME

"Tan examines the tension behind the facade of the moneyed lifestyle in a still-evolving post-Mao Shanghai, where everyone seems to be an expat in their own country." Kirkus Reviews

"Tan’s novel is a vivid family chronicle, a compelling mystery, and an incisive look at wealth and privilege among Chinese-born, American-educated citizens." Publishers Weekly

"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

"Tan’s first novel is beautiful and compassionate as it explores how identity is reinvented and the importance of confronting the past to move into the future." Booklist


"I read What We Were Promised in a state of enchantment... Compassionate and heartbreaking, funny and wise, local and universal, What We Were Promised marks the arrival of an inspiring new voice."

Chloe Benjamin, best-selling author of The Immortalists and The Anatomy of Dreams

"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, best-selling author of Astonish Me and Seating Arrangements

"Brilliant... a revelatory novel about the ways that we learn to become and reinvent who we are. Lucy Tan has an exquisite talent for depicting the painful gravity of lost possibilities, even in a story that moves forward with such momentum that you can’t look away."

Danielle Evans, PEN award-winning author of Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self

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