What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan

🌟🌟🌟🌟☄ (4.5 stars)

Thank you to Little, Brown and Company and Lucy Tan for gifting me a copy in exchange for a review. This did not affect my opinion in any way.

Let’s be real. When I saw the cover of this book on the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide I NEEDED to learn more. Don’t worry: this beautiful content lives up to its cover.

Synopsis: The Zhen family return to China after spending twenty years chasing the American dream. Wei, Lina and their daughter Karen become part of an affluent community of many ex-pats. One day, Lina realizes a sentimental keepsake has gone missing. This creates a culture of mistrust amongst the housekeeping staff within the community. Wei is caught up in his busy worklife while Lina attempts to acclimate to the newly bestowed role of being a ‘taitai’–a housewife who doesn’t do housework. There are problems in the household, which their housekeeper Sunny has picked up on. Things begin to come to a head when Qiang, Wei’s brother reappears in Shanghai after decades of disappearing.

Lucy Tan does a great job of making the reader feel that you are in the particular character’s room whenever describing the circumstances of the chapter without having overwrought prose. The book is told in differing perspectives and in different periods of time. There is a quiet subtlety to her prose that takes care to explain the nuances of occupying the space of a housekeeper vs. a ‘taitai’. This novel addresses class, family secrets, difficulty of marriage vs. love, ex-pat life and missed opportunities. A very strong debut novel and I highly recommend it if you enjoy these themes. It reminded me a bit of Behold the Dreamers and Everything I Never Told You.

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