Immigration, immigrants are certainly in the news and on our minds today, but timeliness is only one reason to read Lisa Ko’s beautifully written debut. It is a moving tale of love and loyalty told by Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, and her American born son, Deming or Daniel.
Polly works at a nail salon and shares a Bronx apartment with her boyfriend, Leon, and Leon’s sister and her son, 10-year-old Michael, who is Deming’s pal. And then one day Polly doesn’t come home - she has simply disappeared from the nail salon. Days passed and she didn’t return. When Deming checks the apartment he finds that she has taken nothing with her save for her keys, her wallet and her handbag. He hopes that she will come back, but that is not to be.
When weeks go by and Deming is given to a “new family,” as if there could be one. His new “parents” are white suburban college teachers, Kay and Peter. They name him Daniel. As the years pass he fails in college, tries to become a musician and learns that his vanished mother is still alive.
At this point the narrative is taken over by Polly who describes what it was like to travel to America as an unmarried pregnant teenager, the crowded living quarters which were all she could find, and the low-paying jobs which again were all she could find.
With “The Leavers” Ko has given us an unforgettable tale of love and loyalty that is incredibly moving and sensitively written. She is an author to remember.
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