Forthcoming from Little, Brown in 2018:
WHAT WE WERE PROMISED is a multi-generational family tale examining a set of Chinese cultural elite known as haigui—literally, “sea turtles”— Chinese-born individuals who move abroad and later return to their homeland to settle down. In 2010, ex-patriates Wei Zhen and his wife Lina have returned to Shanghai to live in one of the city’s most expensive serviced apartments. After twenty-some years of chasing the American Dream, success does not look the way they had imagined it. Wei is a marketing strategist, working for U.S. companies that threaten the Chinese domestic growth he privately wants to promote. Lina, jobless and lonely in her new life of luxury, finds that aimless hours allow for her personal ghosts to move more freely about her. She is haunted most persistently by memories of Qiang, Wei’s estranged brother, with whom she shares an unresolved childhood romance. When Qiang shows up in Shanghai after having been on the run with a local gang for seventeen years, the family must finally reconcile their past and present by considering questions of love, debt, and changing value systems in China. What kinds of loyalty do we owe to our families, to our country, and to ourselves?
An examination of the developing class system in China, the novel also follows Sunny, a migrant worker and housekeeper, whose perception of her own identity shifts once she enters into the employment of the Zhen family. Spanning three provinces and five decades of Chinese history, WHAT WE WERE PROMISED explores post-Maoist China through the eyes of those who continue to live in the legacy of the old era.