In This Debut Novel, a Chinese Immigrant Keeps His Sleepwalking Sister’s Secrets

In This Debut Novel, a Chinese Immigrant Keeps His Sleepwalking Sister’s Secrets

The New York Times-Books·2020-11-18 06:02

NIGHTS WHEN NOTHING HAPPENED By Simon Han

How does a family find its footing after it leaves home for good? For the Chengs, who have immigrated from China, their new life in Plano, Texas, is rendered in a series of quick brush strokes, as if in a Raymond Carver story. Houses on either side of their street stand “like tombs.” A square patch of lawn is filled with “fresh, breathing sod.” Ordinary details of suburban America conjure the past. When Jack, the family’s elder son, smells the perfume of the other 11-year-olds in his class, the sweet scent reminds him of the candied fruits — glazed strawberries, pineapple, shanzha — he used to buy from street vendors in Tianjin, sliding the sticky flesh off the skewers with his teeth. Conversely, a neighbor’s swimming pool at night signals murder and intrigue to Jack — an impression perhaps made more from news stories and television shows than from any kind of lived experience.

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