Bury What We Cannot Take
Author: Kirstin Chen
Published: 20 March 2018
Published by: Little A / Amazon Publishing
Pages: 286 [paperback]
Goodreads Rating: 3.85
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Bury What We Cannot Take is a remarkable story about one family’s attempt to flee Communist China in 1957.
When 12 year-old Ah Liam reports his grandmother to the Party for smashing Chairman Mao’s portrait, a portrait which everyone must have hanging in their home, with a hammer. The family knows they have to leave.
Drum Wave Islet, which has been their family’s home for generations, will be left to the Party. In order to avoid arising suspicion, they only bring a few precious belongings.
The mother goes to obtain four visas for her family. In order to ensure their return, the Party insists that they leave one child behind. Nine year-old San San stays home while her family makes the journey to Hong Kong, where her father lives with his concubine and factories.
This gripping story epitomizes family, culture, radicalism, and living with the consequences of our choices.
“Haven’t you learned by now that he’s as powerless as the rest of us? We’re at the Party’s mercy. If only we’d accepted that from the start” (222).
This book grasped my attention from the very start. I have not read many books about Communism and I became emotionally attached to the characters as the borders began to close and they had to leave San San behind.
“His questions were hers: What if a mistake was too grave to live with? What if the guilt wormed its way deep into the flesh and grew more and more potent, devouring tissue and fat and skin, until one day, you looked down, and your whole self had been ravaged and nothing remained?” (277).
The family’s struggles were heart wrenching. I read Bury What We Cannot Take fervently, searching for consolation. We highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a cultural, political, all-around good read.
I had the opportunity to meet the author, Kirstin Chen, in a Publishing course I took at Northeastern University this past Spring. My professor went to graduate school with Chen and she was on her Bury What We Cannot Take book tour in Boston, so she stopped by our class. The major topics that she discussed about Bury What We Cannot Take were cultural representation, her inspiration, the cover art, and her blurbs.
If you have an interest in Chen’s struggle with cultural representation or her inspiration for Bury What We Cannot Take, please view the article she wrote about both, “Am I Chinese Enough to Tell This Story?“
In regards to the amazing cover of this book, she said she knew exactly what she wanted for this book because she had been unhappy with her previous cover for Soy Sauce For Beginners. She said she was specifically against having a lot of red on the cover of Bury What We Cannot Take.
I asked her about the blurbs for Bury What We Cannot Take, specifically the following:
Bury What We Cannot Take explores what it takes to survive in a world gone mad—and what is lost when we do. Kirstin Chen has written both an engrossing historical drama and a nuanced exploration of how far the bonds of familial love can stretch. —Celeste Ng, New York Times bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere
If you are as big of a fan of Celeste Ng as we are, or have yet to fall in love with her yet, check out our BlondeVsBooks Book Review of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.
Let us know what you thought of Kirstin Chen’s Soy Sauce for Beginners or Bury What We Cannot Take in the comments!