We are pleased to announce the longlist for The Center for Fiction 2022 First Novel Prize. The twenty-four debut novels were selected from over 140 submitted titles with U.S. publication dates between January 1, 2022, and December 31, 2022.
The First Novel Prize, first awarded in 2006, was created to honor the best debut fiction of the year. The winner receives a $15,000 prize and each of the other shortlisted authors receives $1,000. The shortlisted titles will be announced this fall, and the winner will be announced on Tuesday, December 6, 2022 at The Center for Fiction Annual Awards Benefit.
96 volunteer readers chosen from The Center’s diverse community of writers, booksellers, librarians, members, and staff determined the longlist. From these recommended titles, a judging panel of five distinguished authors—to be announced—will choose the shortlist and the winner.
By Daphne Palasi Andreades
Published by Penguin Random House / Random House
Welcome to Queens, New York, where streets echo with languages from all over the globe, subways rumble above dollar stores, trees bloom and topple over sidewalks, and the funky scent of the Atlantic Ocean wafts in from Rockaway Beach. Within one of New York City’s most vibrant and eclectic boroughs, young women of color like Nadira, Gabby, Naz, Trish, Angelique, and countless others, attempt to reconcile their immigrant backgrounds with the American culture in which they come of age. Here, they become friends for life—or so they vow.
Exuberant and wild, together they roam The City That Never Sleeps, sing Mariah Carey at the tops of their lungs, yearn for crushes who pay them no mind—and break the hearts of those who do—all while trying to heed their mothers’ commands to be obedient daughters. But as they age, their paths diverge and rifts form between them, as some choose to remain on familiar streets, while others find themselves ascending in the world, beckoned by existences foreign and seemingly at odds with their humble roots.
A blazingly original debut novel told by a chorus of unforgettable voices, Brown Girls illustrates a collective portrait of childhood, adulthood, and beyond, and is a striking exploration of female friendship, a powerful depiction of women of color attempting to forge their place in the world today. For even as the conflicting desires of ambition and loyalty, freedom and commitment, adventure and stability risk dividing them, it is to one another—and to Queens—that the girls ultimately return.
When We Were Sisters
By Fatimah Asghar
Published by Penguin Random House / One World
In this heartrending, lyrical debut work of fiction, Fatimah Asghar traces the intense bond of three orphaned siblings who, after their parents die, are left to raise one another. The youngest, Kausar, grapples with the incomprehensible loss of their parents as she also charts out her own understanding of gender; Aisha, the middle sister, spars with her “crybaby” younger sibling as she desperately tries to hold on to her sense of family in an impossible situation; and Noreen, the eldest, does her best in the role of sister-mother while also trying to create a life for herself, on her own terms.
As Kausar grows up, she must contend with the collision of her private and public worlds, and choose whether to remain in the life of love, sorrow, and codependency that she’s known or carve out a new path for herself. When We Were Sisters tenderly examines the bonds and fractures of sisterhood, names the perils of being three Muslim American girls alone against the world, and ultimately illustrates how those who’ve lost everything might still make homes in one another..
By Destiny O. Birdsong
Published by Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing
In this glittering triptych novel, Suzette, Maple and Agnes, three Black women with albinism, call Shreveport, Louisiana home. At the bustling crossroads of the American South and Southwest, these three women find themselves at the crossroads of their own lives.
Suzette, a pampered twenty-year-old, has been sheltered from the outside world since a dangerous childhood encounter. Now, a budding romance with a sweet mechanic allows Suzette to seek independence, which unleashes dark reactions in those closest to her. In discovering her autonomy, Suzette is forced to decide what she is willing to sacrifice in order to make her own way in the world.
Maple is reeling from the unsolved murder of her free-spirited mother. She flees the media circus and her judgmental grandmother by shutting herself off from the world in a spare room of the motel where she works. One night, at a party, Maple connects with Chad, someone who may understand her pain more than she realizes, and she discovers that the key to her mother’s death may be within her reach.
Agnes is far from home, working yet another mind-numbing job. She attracts the interest of a lonely security guard and army veteran who’s looking for a traditional life for himself and his young son. He’s convinced that she wields a certain “magic,” but Agnes soon unleashes a power within herself that will shock them both and send her on a trip to confront not only her family and her past, but also herself.
This novel, told in three parts, is a searing meditation on grief, female strength, and self-discovery set against a backdrop of complicated social and racial histories. Nobody’s Magic is a testament to the power of family—the ones you’re born in and the ones you choose. And in these three narratives, among the yearning and loss, each of these women may find a seed of hope for the future.
The School for Good Mothers
By Jessamine Chan
Published by Simon & Schuster
Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.
Until Frida has a very bad day.
The state has its eye on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgement, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.
Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.
An “intense” (Oprah Daily), “captivating” (Today) page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love, The School for Good Mothers introduces, in Frida, an everywoman for the ages. Using dark wit to explore the pains and joys of the deepest ties that bind us, Chan has written a modern literary classic..
Activities of Daily Living
By Lisa Hsiao Chen
Published by W. W. Norton & Company
How do we take stock of a life—by what means, and by what measure? This is the question that preoccupies Alice, a Taiwanese immigrant in her late thirties. In the off-hours from her day job, Alice struggles to create a project about the enigmatic downtown performance artist Tehching Hsieh and his monumental, yearlong 1980s performance pieces. Meanwhile, she becomes the caretaker for her aging stepfather, a Vietnam vet whose dream of making traditional Chinese furniture dissolved in alcoholism and dementia.
As Alice roots deeper into Hsieh’s radical use of time—in one piece, the artist confined himself to a cell for a year; in the next, he punched a time clock every hour, on the hour, for a year—and his mysterious disappearance from the art world, her project starts metabolizing events from her own life. She wanders from subway rides to street protests, loses touch with a friend, and tenderly observes her father’s slow decline.
Moving between present-day and 1980s New York City, with detours to Silicon Valley and the Venice Biennale, this vivid debut announces Lisa Hsiao Chen as an audacious new talent. Activities of Daily Living is a lucid, intimate examination of the creative life and the passage of time.
The Sign for Home
By Blair Fell
Published by Simon & Schuster / Atria / Emily Bestler Books
Arlo Dilly is young, handsome and eager to meet the right girl. He also happens to be DeafBlind, a Jehovah’s Witness, and under the strict guardianship of his controlling uncle. His chances of finding someone to love seem slim to none.
And yet, it happened once before: many years ago, at a boarding school for the Deaf, Arlo met the love of his life—a mysterious girl with onyx eyes and beautifully expressive hands which told him the most amazing stories. But tragedy struck, and their love was lost forever.
Or so Arlo thought.
After years trying to heal his broken heart, Arlo is assigned a college writing assignment which unlocks buried memories of his past. Soon he wonders if the hearing people he was supposed to trust have been lying to him all along, and if his lost love might be found again.
No longer willing to accept what others tell him, Arlo convinces a small band of misfit friends to set off on a journey to learn the truth. After all, who better to bring on this quest than his gay interpreter and wildly inappropriate Belgian best friend? Despite the many forces working against him, Arlo will stop at nothing to find the girl who got away and experience all of life’s joyful possibilities..
Shadows of Pecan Hollow
By Caroline Frost
Published by HarperCollins / William Morrow
It was 1970 when thirteen-year-old runaway Kit Walker was abducted by Manny Romero, a smooth-talking, low-level criminal, who first coddled her and then groomed her into his partner-in-crime. Before long, Kit and Manny were infamous for their string of gas station robberies throughout Texas, making a name for themselves as the Texaco Twosome.
Twenty years after they meet, Kit has scraped together a life for herself and her daughter amongst the pecan trees and muddy creeks of the town of Pecan Hollow, far from Manny. But when he shows up at her doorstep a new man, fresh out of prison, Kit is forced to reckon with the shadows of her past.
A gritty, penetrating, and unexpectedly tender novel, Shadows of Pecan Hollow is a hauntingly intimate and distinctly original debut about the complexity of love—both romantic and familial—and the bonds that define us.
By Meghan Gilliss
Published by Catapult
Tuck is slow to understand the circumstances that have driven her family to an uninhabited island off the coast of Maine, the former home of her deceased grandmother where she once spent her childhood summers. Squatting there now, she must care for her spirited young daughter and scrape together enough money to leave before winter arrives—or before they are found out.
Relying on the island for sustenance and answers—bladderwrack, rosehips, tenacious little green crabs; smells held by the damp walls of the house, field guides and religious texts, a failed invention left behind by her missing father—Tuck lives moment-by-moment through the absurdity, beauty, paranoia, and hunger that shoots through her life, as her husband struggles to detox.
Exquisitely written and formally daring, Lungfish tells the story of a woman grappling through the lies she has been told—and those she has told herself—to arrive at the truth of who she is and where she must go. Meghan Gilliss’s debut is a brilliant and heartbreaking novel about addiction, doubt, marriage, motherhood, and learning to see in the dark..
What the Fireflies Knew
By Kai Harris
Published by Penguin Random House / Tiny Reparations Books
An ode to Black girlhood and adolescence as seen through KB’s eyes, What the Fireflies Knew follows KB after her father dies of an overdose and the debts incurred from his addiction cause the loss of the family home in Detroit. Soon thereafter, KB and her teenage sister, Nia, are sent by their overwhelmed mother to live with their estranged grandfather in Lansing, Michigan. Over the course of a single sweltering summer, KB attempts to navigate a world that has turned upside down.
Her father has been labeled a fiend. Her mother’s smile no longer reaches her eyes. Her sister, once her best friend, now feels like a stranger. Her grandfather is grumpy and silent. The white kids who live across the street are friendly, but only sometimes. And they’re all keeping secrets. As KB vacillates between resentment, abandonment, and loneliness, she is forced to carve out a different identity for herself and find her own voice.
A dazzling and moving novel about family, identity, and race, What the Fireflies Knew poignantly reveals that heartbreaking but necessary component of growing up–the realization that loved ones can be flawed and that the perfect family we all dream of looks different up close.
By Chantal V. Johnson
Published by Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown and Company
To the outside observer, Vivian is a success story—a dedicated lawyer who advocates for mentally ill patients at a New York City psychiatric hospital. Privately, Vivian contends with the memories and aftereffects of her bad childhood—compounded by the everyday stresses of being a Black Latinx woman in America. She lives in a constant state of hypervigilant awareness that makes even a simple subway ride into a heart-pounding drama.
For years, Vivian has self-medicated with a mix of dating, dieting, dark humor and smoking weed with her BFF, Jane. But after a family reunion prompts Vivian to take a bold step, she finds herself alone in new and terrifying ways, without even Jane to confide in, and she starts to unravel. Will she find a way to repair what matters most to her?
A debut from a stunning talent, Post-traumatic is a new kind of survivor narrative, featuring a complex heroine who is blazingly, indelibly alive. With razor-sharp prose and mordant wit, Chantal V. Johnson performs an extraordinary feat, delivering a psychologically astute story about the aftermath of trauma that somehow manages to brim with warmth, laughter, and hope..
By Isabel Kaplan
Published by Macmillan / Henry Holt and Company
From the outside, the unnamed protagonist in NSFW appears to be the vision of success. She has landed an entry-level position at a leading TV network that thousands of college grads would kill for. And sure, she has much to learn. The daughter of a prominent feminist attorney, she grew up outside the industry. But she’s resourceful and hardworking. What could go wrong?
At first, the high adrenaline work environment motivates her. Yet as she climbs the ranks, she confronts the reality of creating change from the inside. Her points only get attention when echoed by male colleagues; she hears whispers of abuse and sexual misconduct. Her mother says to keep her head down until she’s the one in charge—a scenario that seems idealistic at best, morally questionable at worst. When her personal and professional lives collide, threatening both the network and her future, she must decide what to protect: the career she’s given everything for or the empowered woman she claims to be.
Fusing page-turning prose with dark humor and riveting commentary on the truths of starting out professionally, Isabel Kaplan’s NSFW is an unflinching exploration of the gray area between empowerment and complicity. The result is a stunning portrait of what success costs in today’s patriarchal world, asking us: Is it ever worth it?
By Leyna Krow
Published by Penguin Random House / Viking
For the citizens of Spokane Falls, the fire of 1889 that destroyed their frontier boomtown was no disaster; it was an opportunity. Barton Heydale, manager of the only bank in Spokane Falls, is on the verge of ending his short, unpopular life. But when his city goes up in flames, he sees an ember of hope shimmering on the horizon, headed right for him. As citizens flock to the bank to cash out insurance policies and take out loans, he realizes he can command the power he craves—and it’s not by following the rules. Here is his reason to live.
When Quake Auchenbaucher, a career con man hired to investigate the cause of the fire, arrives in Spokane Falls, he employs his usual shady tactics. But this time, with Washington Territory vying for statehood, the sudden attention to due process jeopardizes Quake’s methods of manipulation.
And then there’s Roslyn Beck, whose uncanny ability to see the future has long driven her to drink, and with whom both Barton and Quake have fallen madly and dangerously in love. She is known as a “certain kind of woman,” in possession of unique talents and influence, if only she can find the right ways to wield them. As their paths collide, diverge, and collide again, Barton, Quake, and Roslyn come to terms with their own needs for power, greed, and control, leading one to total ruin, one to heartbreak, and one, ultimately, to redemption.
With masterful precision, devious originality, and dark whimsy, Fire Season freshly imagines the greed and misogyny of the American West to tell a rollicking, bewitching story about finding purpose in the face of injustice..
We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies
By Tsering Yangzom Lama
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
In the wake of China’s invasion of Tibet throughout the 1950s, Lhamo and her younger sister, Tenkyi, arrive at a refugee camp in Nepal. They survived the dangerous journey across the Himalayas, but their parents did not. As Lhamo—haunted by the loss of her homeland and her mother, a village oracle—tries to rebuild a life amid a shattered community, hope arrives in the form of a young man named Samphel and his uncle, who brings with him the ancient statue of the Nameless Saint—a relic known to vanish and reappear in times of need.
Decades later, the sisters are separated, and Tenkyi is living with Lhamo’s daughter, Dolma, in Toronto. While Tenkyi works as a cleaner and struggles with traumatic memories, Dolma vies for a place as a scholar of Tibetan Studies. But when Dolma comes across the Nameless Saint in a collector’s vault, she must decide what she is willing to do for her community, even if it means risking her dreams.
Breathtaking in its scope and powerful in its intimacy, We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies is a gorgeously written meditation on colonization, displacement, and the lengths we’ll go to remain connected to our families and ancestral lands. Told through the lives of four people over fifty years, this novel provides a nuanced, moving portrait of the little-known world of Tibetan exiles.
Portrait of a Thief
By Grace D. Li
Published by Penguin Random House / Tiny Reparations Books
History is told by the conquerors. Across the Western world, museums display the spoils of war, of conquest, of colonialism: priceless pieces of art looted from other countries, kept even now.
Will Chen plans to steal them back.
A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son who has always been his parents’ American Dream. But when a mysterious Chinese benefactor reaches out with an impossible—and illegal—job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago.
His crew is every heist archetype one can imagine—or at least, the closest he can get. A con artist: Irene Chen, a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lockpicking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering major who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down.
Because if they succeed? They earn fifty million dollars—and a chance to make history. But if they fail, it will mean not just the loss of everything they’ve dreamed for themselves but yet another thwarted attempt to take back what colonialism has stolen.
Equal parts beautiful, thoughtful, and thrilling, Portrait of a Thief is a cultural heist and an examination of Chinese American identity, as well as a necessary critique of the lingering effects of colonialism..
The Boy with a Bird in His Chest
By Emme Lund
Published by Simon & Schuster / Atria Books
Though Owen Tanner has never met anyone else who has a chatty bird in their chest, medical forums would call him a Terror. From the moment Gail emerged between Owen’s ribs, his mother knew that she had to hide him away from the world. After a decade spent in hiding, Owen takes a brazen trip outdoors in the middle of a forest fire, and his life is upended forever.
Suddenly, Owen is forced to flee the home that had once felt so confining and hide in plain sight with his uncle and cousin in Washington. There, he feels the joy of finding a family among friends; of sharing the bird in his chest and being embraced fully; of falling in love and feeling the devastating heartbreak of rejection before finding a spark of happiness in the most unexpected place; of living his truth regardless of how hard the thieves of joy may try to tear him down. But the threat of the Army of Acronyms is a constant, looming presence, making Owen wonder if he’ll ever find a way out of the cycle of fear.
A heartbreaking yet hopeful novel about the things that make us unique and lovable, The Boy with a Bird in His Chest grapples with the fear, depression, and feelings of isolation that come with believing that we will never be loved, let alone accepted, for who we truly are, and learning to live fully and openly regardless.
By Leila Mottley
Published by Penguin Random House / Alfred A. Knopf
Kiara and her brother, Marcus, are scraping by in an East Oakland apartment complex optimistically called the Regal-Hi. Both have dropped out of high school, their family fractured by death and prison
But while Marcus clings to his dream of rap stardom, Kiara hunts for work to pay their rent—which has more than doubled—and to keep the nine-year-old boy next door, abandoned by his mother, safe and fed. One night, what begins as a drunken misunderstanding with a stranger turns into the job Kiara never imagined wanting but now desperately needs: nightcrawling. Her world breaks open even further when her name surfaces in an investigation that exposes her as a key witness in a massive scandal within the Oakland Police Department.
Rich with raw beauty, electrifying intensity, and piercing vulnerability, Nightcrawling marks the stunning arrival of a voice unlike any we have heard before..
If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English
By Noor Naga
Published by Graywolf Press
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, an Egyptian American woman and a man from the village of Shobrakheit meet at a café in Cairo. He was a photographer of the revolution, but now finds himself unemployed and addicted to cocaine, living in a rooftop shack. She is a nostalgic daughter of immigrants “returning” to a country she’s never been to before, teaching English and living in a light-filled flat with balconies on all sides. They fall in love and he moves in. But soon their desire—for one another, for the selves they want to become through the other—takes a violent turn that neither of them expected.
A dark romance exposing the gaps in American identity politics, especially when exported overseas, If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English is at once ravishing and wry, scathing and tender. Told in alternating perspectives, Noor Naga’s experimental debut examines the ethics of fetishizing the homeland and punishing the beloved . . . and vice versa. In our globalized twenty-first-century world, what are the new faces (and races) of empire? When the revolution fails, how long can someone survive the disappointment? Who suffers and, more crucially, who gets to tell about it?
By Eloghosa Osunde
Published by Penguin Random House / Riverhead Books
As in Nigeria, vagabonds are those whose existence is literally outlawed: the queer, the poor, the displaced, the footloose and rogue spirits. They are those who inhabit transient spaces, who make their paths and move invisibly, who embrace apparitions, old vengeances and alternative realities. Eloghosa Osunde’s brave, fiercely inventive novel traces a wild array of characters for whom life itself is a form of resistance: a driver for a debauched politician with the power to command life and death; a legendary fashion designer who gives birth to a grown daughter; a lesbian couple whose tender relationship sheds unexpected light on their experience with underground sex work; a wife and mother who attends a secret spiritual gathering that shifts her world. As their lives intertwine—in bustling markets and underground clubs, churches and hotel rooms—vagabonds are seized and challenged by spirits who command the city’s dark energy. Whether running from danger, meeting with secret lovers, finding their identities, or vanquishing their shadowselves, Osunde’s characters confront and support one another, before converging for the once-in-a-lifetime gathering that gives the book its unexpectedly joyous conclusion.
Blending unvarnished realism with myth and fantasy, Vagabonds! is a vital work of imagination that takes us deep inside the hearts, minds, and bodies of a people in duress—and in triumph..
The Candid Life of Meena Dave
By Namrata Patel
Published by Amazon Publishing / Lake Union
Meena Dave is a photojournalist and a nomad. She has no family, no permanent address, and no long-term attachments, preferring to observe the world at a distance through the lens of her camera. But Meena’s solitary life is turned upside down when she unexpectedly inherits an apartment in a Victorian brownstone in historic Back Bay, Boston.
Though Meena’s impulse is to sell it and keep moving, she decides to use her journalistic instinct to follow the story that landed her in the home of a stranger. It’s a mystery that comes with a series of hidden clues, a trio of meddling Indian aunties, and a handsome next-door neighbor. For Meena it’s a chance for newfound friendships, community, and culture she never thought possible. And a window into her past she never expected.
Now as everything unknown to Meena comes into focus, she must reconcile who she wants to be with who she really is.
By Namrata Poddar
Published by 7.13 Books
Border Less is a novel that centers desert and coastal spaces, predominantly of Mumbai and Greater Los Angeles, with layovers in the Thar Desert and African islands of the Indian Ocean. Divided in two sections, “Roots” and “Routes,” the book traces the migratory journey of Dia Mittal, an airline call center agent in Mumbai who is searching for a better life. As her search takes her to the United States, Dia’s checkered relationship with the American Dream dialogues with the experiences and perspectives of a global South Asian community across the class spectrum—call center agents, travel agents, immigrant maids, fashion designers, blue- and white-collar workers in the hospitality industry, junior and senior artists in Bollywood, hustling single mothers, academics, tourists in the Third World, refugees displaced by military superpowers, Marwari merchants and trade caravans of the Silk Road, among others. What connects the novel’s web of brown border-crossing characters is their quest for belonging and a negotiation of power struggles, mediated by race, class, caste, gender, religion, nationality, age, or place. With its fragmented form, staccato rhythm, repetition, and play with English language, Border Less questions the “mainstream” Western novel and its assumptions of good storytelling..
By Alyssa Songsiridej
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
When the unnamed narrator of Little Rabbit first meets the choreographer at an artists’ residency in Maine, it’s not a match. She finds him loud, conceited, domineering. He thinks her serious, guarded, always running away to write. But when he reappears in her life in Boston and invites her to his dance company’s performance, she’s compelled to attend. Their interaction at the show sets off a summer of expanding her own body’s boundaries: She follows the choreographer to his home in the Berkshires, to his apartment in New York, and into submission during sex. Her body learns to obediently follow his, and his desires quickly become inextricable from her pleasure. This must be happiness, right?
Back in Boston, her roommate Annie’s skepticism amplifies her own doubts about these heady weekend retreats. What does it mean for a queer young woman to partner with an older man, for a fledgling artist to partner with an established one? Is she following her own agency, or is she merely following him? Does falling in love mean eviscerating yourself?
Combining the sticky sexual politics of Luster with the dizzying, perceptive intimacy of Cleanness, Little Rabbit is a wholly new kind of coming-of-age story about lust, punishment, artistic drive, and desires that defy the hard-won boundaries of the self.
By Mecca Jamilah Sullivan
Published by W. W. Norton & Company / Liveright
Growing up in a rapidly changing Harlem, eight-year-old Malaya hates when her mother drags her to Weight Watchers meetings; she’d rather paint alone in her bedroom or enjoy forbidden street foods with her father. For Malaya, the pressures of her predominantly white Upper East Side prep school are relentless, as are the expectations passed down from her painfully proper mother and sharp-tongued grandmother. As she comes of age in the 1990s, she finds solace in the music of Biggie Smalls and Aaliyah, but her weight continues to climb—until a family tragedy forces her to face the source of her hunger, ultimately shattering her inherited stigmas surrounding women’s bodies, and embracing her own desire. Written with vibrant lyricism shot through with tenderness, Big Girl announces Sullivan as an urgent and vital voice in contemporary fiction..
A Map for the Missing
By Belinda Huijuan Tang
Published by Penguin Random House / Penguin Press
Tang Yitian has been living in America for almost a decade when he receives an urgent phone call from his mother: his father has disappeared from the family’s rural village in China. Though they have been estranged for years, Yitian promises to come home.
When Yitian attempts to piece together what may have happened, he struggles to navigate China’s impenetrable bureaucracy as an outsider, and his mother’s evasiveness only deepens the mystery. So he seeks out a childhood friend who may be in a position to help: Tian Hanwen, the only other person who shared Yitian’s desire to pursue a life of knowledge. As a teenager, Hanwen was “sent down” from Shanghai to Yitian’s village as part of the country’s rustication campaign. Young and in love, they dreamed of attending university in the city together. But when their plans resulted in a terrible tragedy, their paths diverged, and while Yitian ended up a professor in America, Hanwen was left behind, resigned to life as a midlevel bureaucrat’s wealthy housewife.
Reuniting for the first time as adults, Yitian and Hanwen embark on the search for Yitian’s father, all the while grappling with the past—who Yitian’s father really was, and what might have been. Spanning the late 1970s to 1990s and moving effortlessly between rural provinces and big cities, A Map for the Missing is a deeply felt examination of family and forgiveness, and the meaning of home.
The Immortal King Rao
By Vauhini Vara
Published by W. W. Norton & Company
In a future in which the world is run by the Board of Corporations, King’s daughter, Athena, reckons with his legacy—literally, for he has given her access to his memories, among other questionable gifts.
With climate change raging, Athena has come to believe that saving the planet and its Shareholders will require a radical act of communion—and so she sets out to tell the truth to the world’s Shareholders, in entrancing sensory detail, about King’s childhood on a South Indian coconut plantation; his migration to the U.S. to study engineering in a world transformed by globalization; his marriage to the ambitious artist with whom he changed the world; and, ultimately, his invention, under self-exile, of the most ambitious creation of his life—Athena herself.
The Immortal King Rao, written by a former Wall Street Journal technology reporter, is a resonant debut novel obliterating the boundaries between literary and speculative fiction, the historic and the dystopian, confronting how we arrived at the age of technological capitalism and where our actions might take us next..