Author Jean Kwok, on her best-selling novels
11:30 AM to 12:30 PM
Who can attend
In four international best-selling novels, Jean Kwok has created characters at once utterly exotic and totally familiar to the children and grandchildren of immigrants.
Her parents bribed their way out of China to escape the Revolution’s brutality against landowners and educated professionals. For a decade in Hong Kong, they dreamed of America’s Golden Shores, of the skyscrapers of Manhattan and women in fur coats.
But after arrival, they found themselves in a condemned building in Brooklyn, crawling with roaches. Penniless, everyone in the family had to work, even five-year-old Jean, in a dusty, airless sweatshop.
Having never seen anyone who was not Chinese until she went to her first day of school, Jean assumed that the boy with blue eyes and blond hair sitting next to her was bald and blind.
That back story is laced into Kwok’s previous mystery novels, in keeping with the tradition of immigrant novelists from Henry Roth and Cristina Garcia to Anzia Yezierska. And in her new book, The Leftover Women, she extends it further by taking us inside the collision between a rural Chinese mother desperate to find the daughter taken from her because she’d defied the Chinese One Child policy and a wealthy white American woman with a high-powered job, a beautiful home and an adopted Chinese daughter she adores.
Kowk joins us to discuss such clashes, writing while hopscotching across cultures, and, at a moment when the American Dream is being much maligned, how she feels about it.