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THE LEAVERS, BY LISA KO, IS A HEART­FELT POR­TRAIT OF DIS­PLACE­MENT IN THE US

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Contents - By Lucy Sc­holes

The Leavers — a in­al­ist for last year’s Na­tional Book Award for Fic­tion in the US, is a rich, mul­ti­fac­eted por­trait of dis­place­ment and the trauma of not be­long­ing.

Eleven-year-old Dem­ing Guo lives in the Bronx with his mother Polly, her boyfriend Leon, and Leon’s sis­ter Vi­vian and her son Michael, who is Dem­ing’s best friend. One day Polly loats the idea of her and Dem­ing mov­ing to Florida. Dem­ing isn’t in­ter­ested; he doesn’t want to leave the city or his friends.

Not long af­ter, Polly never comes home from her job at a nail sa­lon. No one knows where she is, Florida or oth­er­wise. Vi­vian takes Dem­ing to Child Ser­vices — “No­body wanted him,” he thinks, steeped in the re­jec­tion and grief that soon be­gins to deine him — and be­fore he knows it he’s head­ing out of the city on his way to a new life he never wanted, com­plete with a new name: Daniel Wilkin­son.

He’s adopted by two white, mid­dle-class aca­demics who live in a small town in up­state New York. They’re well mean­ing enough, but painfully clue­less on many im­por­tant points, Ko spar­ing no one’s blushes when she calls them out.

Ten years pass, and Daniel be­comes “an ex­pert at jug­gling selves; he used to see Dem­ing and think him­self into Daniel, a slideshow per­pet­u­ally al­ter­nat­ing be­tween the same two slides.” It comes as no sur­prise to learn that he’s strug­gling as a young adult, feel­ing pres­sure to live up to the ex­pec­ta­tions of oth­ers, but fail­ing at ev­ery turn, un­sure of what he wants or who he is.

It is, how­ever, in open­ing up the nar­ra­tive by then delv­ing deep into Polly’s past — from the pri­va­tions of her youth in ru­ral China, her hopes for a bet­ter life for her and her son in the US, and the sub­se­quent drudgery she en­coun­ters there, not to men­tion her bar­baric treat­ment at the hands of the author­i­ties.

As such, The Leavers it­self speaks to the broader im­mi­grant ex­pe­ri­ence in con­tem­po­rary Amer­ica, as well as pos­ing in­ter­est­ing ques­tions about how per­haps de­cid­ing to set­tle down some­where speciic is ac­tu­ally just as hard as mak­ing the de­ci­sion to leave, es­pe­cially if there are other peo­ple or cruel cir­cum­stances dic­tat­ing your free­doms.

A thought­ful, haunt­ing tale that de­serves the ac­claim its al­ready won in Amer­ica.

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