Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok

Rating: 5 of 5 stars 
Pages: 288 pages
Published: October 2023

Anne Bogel of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club raved about The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok during her 2023 Fall Book Preview event. I thought the synopsis sounded intriguing, so when Book of the Month offered it as a selection I chose it for my monthly subscription box. 

In short, the novel tells a believable yet fictional tale of a young woman, Jasmine, who escapes her abusive husband in China in search of her daughter who she believed to have died during childbirth. Her husband told her this horrible tale because of China's One Child Policy. Because of his position in the government, he only wanted - and could only afford - a male descendant. Jasmine learns her daughter has been adopted by a white American couple - Brandon and Rebecca - living in New York. So, she puts herself into impossible-to-overcome debt and absconds to the U.S. in search of the daughter she never knew with plans to recover her and for them to make a life of their own together. 

Each chapter is told either from Jasmine's first-person perspective or from the third-person perspective when developing and defining Rebecca's character. Both women are as different in personality and socioeconomic status as in the way their stories are presented. I struggled for most of the book with this, not fully understanding the change in perspective. However, later in the book, a plot twist is revealed that adds clarity to this incongruent approach. 

Overall, the story is relatively short - just shy of 300 pages, but there are so many details offered up with such beautiful prose that one cannot rush reading this book. My favorite thing about reading, especially fiction, is a beautifully-constructed sentence, and Kwok peppers these thought-provoking passages throughout her novel resulting in an engaging story that captures, commands and captivates the reader's attention. Some of my favorites are: 

Why was it that women had to pay the price for men’s desires? -p. 85
I was trying to hold on to the illusion that I could work in a place like this and do it on my own terms, but I already knew, deep inside, that Opium was going to infiltrate my skin, soak into my pores until I wouldn't be able to tell where I ended, and it began. Walk often enough by the river's edge and your shoes will get wet. -p. 126

In China, I’d seen posters warning girls of the danger of becoming leftover women, women that no one wanted. Leftover like scraps on a table, uneaten food, both sacrilege and wasteful, something that should have nourished our country squandered and turned into rubbish: unwanted, purposeless, of no use to anyone. -p. 167-168

When you love the house, you just love the crows on the roof as well. -p. 211
Recommendation: I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. In hindsight, I would not have read it near Christmas as it was sad in its themes, but it did provide a ray of hope in the uplifting, but not totally neatly-packaged, ending. This is a book you read not for a highly actionable plot, although there was some of that, but the journey in following the characters and their storylinles. I'd highly recommend this book for the lone reader or for invigorating discussing with a book club. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.


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