Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng Published by Viking October 2022; 352 pages; Dystopian Lit
Celeste Ng is a master at crafting a story. She takes powerful and horrific themes and weaves in a literary style that somehow makes you want to sit up and pay attention.
In Our Missing Hearts, Ng tackles the not quite so fictional reality of hatred, prejudice, and outright aggression toward Asian Americans.
The story has been compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Both are dystopian and the distinctions of criminal sanctioned behavior towards certain ethnic or identifiable groups, all in the name of nationalism, is horrifying.
I live in Canada, but though Ng’s book, Our Missing Hearts is set in the United States, it still rang true to things we were seeing on the nightly news during and after Covid.
The Chinese in many communities and countries were made unfair scape goats. An identifiable target to absorb the putrid behavior of those living in fear and ignorance.
It certainly didn’t help when a world leader was fanning the fire with hateful words and name calling.
In her new book, which is set on the future, Ng’s words brought heartbreak and understanding. She was able to describe and embody the reality of what that hatred feels like.
As you read further you discover the political and financial disasters that changed the world and the society in question into hateful, spiteful bigots who’d sell out their own family, neighbor, or friends to be part of the societal change.
Ng points out many things and situations go unnoticed and unspoken in society. The abuse toward people who are Asian American and the turning a blind eye to it all. It becomes the normalization of sanctioned genocide.
There is a part in the book where a woman is attacked on the street… the scene was written in such a way that made it so visceral I had to squeeze my eye closed in horror. When you get to that scene–you’ll know it.
Our Missing Hearts begins with a twelve year old boy, nicknamed Bird by his mother, who lives with his white ‘single’ dad. His mother, who is a Chinese poet, left the home when he was nine years old.
Bird is left with broken memories of his mother as he struggles with his own lack of belonging because he’s half Chinese. He’s lonely, broken, and so needs his mother.
The children are taught (perhaps programmed is a better word) in school and at home at a young age that different is not good for restoring the “American Culture”.
Do we ever learn from the past mistakes? The Nazi’s? The terrorists? The white supremisists?
This book is literary fiction and at times gets bogged down in the writing and description which can make it feel slow. I skimmed those parts and kept going. It’s worth it.
This, sharing of truth, is a gift to all of us from Celeste Ng.
Be aware. Use your voice for good. Being a blind follower is never a good thing. Learn and listen. Have the balls to step away from leaders who spout hateful rhetoric and blame.
The world is pretty volatile right now–heck maybe it always is, but this book is a prime example –just like The Handmaid’s Tale–of what could happen so quickly if we’re not paying attention to what’s going on around us.
I would recommend this book–even with the laggy bits I’d still give it a 5*.
Other Books by Celeste Ng. I would also recommend them. Little Fires Everywhere has always been a fave of mine.
And Ng’s first book Everything I Never Told You: A Novel is also a powerful book about family, loyalty, secrets, and the all powerful American Dream.
All cover art credited to: Celeste Ng website
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