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What We Were Promised

By: Lucy Tan
Narrated by: Jennifer Lim
Length: 10 hrs and 56 mins
Categories: Fiction, Historical
4 out of 5 stars (113 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Named one of "60 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2018" by Huffington Post.

Set in modern Shanghai, a debut by a Chinese-American writer about a prodigal son whose unexpected return forces his newly wealthy family to confront painful secrets and unfulfilled promises.  

After years of chasing the American dream, the Zhen family has moved back to China. Settling into a luxurious serviced apartment in Shanghai, Wei, Lina, and their daughter, Karen, join an elite community of Chinese-born, Western-educated professionals who have returned to a radically transformed city.  

One morning, in the eighth tower of Lanson Suites, Lina discovers that a treasured ivory bracelet has gone missing. This incident sets off a wave of unease that ripples throughout the Zhen household. Wei, a marketing strategist, bows under the guilt of not having engaged in nobler work. Meanwhile, Lina, lonely in her new life of leisure, assumes the modern moniker taitai - a housewife who does no housework at all. She is haunted by the circumstances surrounding her arranged marriage to Wei and her lingering feelings for his brother, Qiang. Sunny, the family's housekeeper, is a keen but silent observer of these tensions. An unmarried woman trying to carve a place for herself in society, she understands the power of well-kept secrets. When Qiang reappears in Shanghai after decades on the run with a local gang, the family must finally come to terms with the past and its indelible mark on their futures.  

From a silk-producing village in rural China, up the corporate ladder in suburban America, and back again to the post-Maoist nouveaux riches of modern Shanghai, What We Were Promised explores the question of what we owe to our country, our families, and ourselves.  

©2018 Lucy Tan (P)2018 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"A quietly brilliant book, and a truly singular debut." (Arna Bontemps Hemenway, award-winning author of Elegy on Kinderklavier)

"The magnificence and splendor of modern Shanghai come to life in Lucy Tan's debut novel." (Palm Beach Post)

"Tan's talent as a storyteller clearly shines through her strong plot lines and characterization; readers will want to know more about each well-crafted player in the story.... A novel of class, culture, and expectations; readers who enjoyed works like Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians will likely find Tan's surprising and down-to-earth tale an entertaining read." (Library Journal)

What members say

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A solid book about an unfamiliar topic

I didn't know much about contemporary Chinese culture, especially among upper class executives. I found that part fascinating. I enjoyed the perspective on the Chinese expo and the "rags to riches" aspect of the culture and economy. I might have liked more closure/resolution at the end but that's more a personal preference than a criticism of the work.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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slow book

Book moved too slowly. Almost 11 hours is a long time for too slow character development .

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  • ~A
  • 07-17-19

interesting look in China<br />

through the first person narrative of Sunny, we are able to see the choices one can make during the economic development of China in the 90s. we also get a glimpse into the two generations before her and in doing so we get a glimpse into the economic emergence of China through the lives of its people.

the book itself is quite light and enjoyable. it's an easy read except for when it challenges the readers understanding of having choice versus having no choice over one's life.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Engaging story, well written and beautifully read

Funny how, in such an exotic locale, the situations described feel familiar. There are some aspects to the story which would unique to China but the feelings and actions of the characters were so genuine that they were relatable.

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excellent, vivid tale of loves

vivid interesting story about types of love, choices, family. it reminds me of Thrity Umrigar’s excellent books. i hope Sunny gets a sequel!