Meet The Kongs: an unforgettable Chinese-American family of fiercely independent, secretive, and unforgettable women in Kathryn Ma’s debut novel, The Year She Left Us (on sale today!).
The Kong family is jolted into crisis after a disastrous trip to visit 18-year-old Ari’s “home” orphanage in China. As they cope with Ari’s journey of discovery and its aftermath, each of them—including Ari’s adoptive, well-intentioned mother Charlie, her fiercely opinionated Aunt Les, and her ever-scrutinizing grandmother, Gran—will come face to face with the truths of their own lives. Exposing strengths, secrets, loneliness, and love, The Year She Left Us illuminates the bonds of family and blood in a powerful story of adoption, assimilation, and the belief in giving ourselves and others another chance.
In a special interview, author Kathryn Ma lets us in on the inspiration for her novel, as she answers the question: How did the idea for your book originate.
My husband and I have three daughters, and I’m very interested in the lives of young women, in particular how a young woman forms an identity and comes into a life of her own while keeping family ties. My parents are immigrants from China, and issues of displacement, exile, and assimilation have been part of my life story. Those issues came into focus in a new way for me when I traveled to China in 1999 and 2001 to tour the country and visit relatives.
While I was aware that Chinese girls were being adopted by western families, I was struck by the number of adoption groups I saw in my travels. At home in the U.S., Chinese girls with western parents seemed to be everywhere, including among my own circle of extended family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. I knew a number of adoptive parents with children from China, Vietnam, Central America, Russia, and other countries. International adoption has been embraced by countries welcoming new citizens, and by countries giving up their children. American parents have brought home over 70,000 Chinese orphans—most of them girls—accounting for more than one-third of all international adoptions to the U.S.
That so many orphans have found homes is joyful. Adoption has brought together children and parents who have formed new, happy families. But, as a mother, I wondered about the hidden emotional cost. Amidst the joy, there had to be sorrow and longing. For the adopted child, there would be questions about where she had come from, whom she belonged to, and who she would become. Those questions related beautifully to my themes of identity and family.
While mulling over these ideas, I saw an exhibition of new work from Chinese artists at the Asia Society, a museum I love and always visit when I’m in New York City. The exhibit included a riveting photograph by the Chinese artist Sheng Qi, of a hand missing a little finger. The absent finger spoke volumes about pain, loss, healing, and recovery. I knew immediately that a hand with a missing finger would be part of my novel.