OUR MISSING HEARTS
**INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER**
From the number one bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere , a deeply suspenseful and heartrending novel about the unbreakable love between a mother and child in a society consumed by fear Twelve-year-old Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving but broken father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library. Bird knows to not ask too many questions, stand out too much, or stray too far. For a decade, their lives have been governed by laws written to preserve “American culture” in the wake of years of economic instability and violence. To keep the peace and restore prosperity, the authorities are now allowed to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and libraries have been forced to remove books seen as unpatriotic—including the work of Bird’s mother, Margaret, a Chinese American poet who left the family when he was nine years old. Bird has grown up disavowing his mother and her poems; he doesn’t know her work or what happened to her, and he knows he shouldn’t wonder. But when he receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, he is drawn into a quest to find her. His journey will take him back to the many folktales she poured into his head as a child, through the ranks of an underground network of librarians, into the lives of the children who have been taken, and finally to New York City, where a new act of defiance may be the beginning of much-needed change. Our Missing Hearts is an old story made new, of the ways supposedly civilized communities can pretend to ignore the most searing injustice. It’s a story about the power—and limitations—of art to create change, the lessons and legacies we pass on to our children, and how any of us can survive a broken world with our hearts intact.
In bookstores everywhere
Praise for our missing hearts:.
“Ng creates an exquisite story of unbreakable family bonds, lifesaving storytelling (and seemingly omniscient librarians!), brilliantly subversive art, and accidentally transformative activism. As lyrical as it is chilling, as astonishing as it is empathic, Our Missing Hearts arguably achieves literary perfection.”
— BOOKLIST ★ (STARRED REVIEW)
“Ng crafts an affecting family drama out of the chilling and charged atmosphere, and shines especially when offering testimony to the power of art and storytelling… Like Margaret’s story, Ng’s latest crackles and sizzles all the way to the end. ”
— PUBLISHERS WEEKLY ★ (STARRED REVIEW)
“Known for focusing on families, race, and relationships, Ng raises the bar another notch in a story intensified by reference to such police violence, political protest, book banning, and discrimination against people of color… As with her previous novels, her storytelling will not disappoint. ”
— Library Journal ★ (Starred Review)
“From the very first page of this thoroughly engrossing and deeply moving novel, Bird’s story takes wing. Taut and terrifying, Ng’s cautionary tale transports us into an American tomorrow that is all too easy to imagine—and persuasively posits that the antidotes to fear and suspicion are empathy and love. Underscores that the stories we tell about our lives and those of others can change hearts, minds, and history.”
— Kirkus Reviews ★ (Starred Review)
“An eerie, prophetic novel… Brilliantly envisioned and filled with Ng's signature tender, intimate character work and complex family dynamics, this coming-of-age story asks what it means to be a good parent or a good citizen when every child is at risk, as well as what power art has to challenge injustice.”
— Shelf Awareness
“ Celeste Ng is undoubtedly at the top of her game… Ng’s prose highlights the fateful and sometimes absurd connections between our world and the realm of ideas, reminding readers that what is in our heads will always reveal itself in our bodies. The result is a novel that will undoubtedly impact how we connect and live in this terrifying, beautiful world. ”
— BookPage ★ (Starred Review)
“Firmly written and well-executed… I won’t give away the splendid conclusion of Ng’s book; suffice it to say, the climax deals with the power of words, the power of stories and the persistence of memory. It’s impossible not to be moved by Margaret Miu’s courage, or to applaud her craftiness. … Bird is a brave and believable character, who gives us a relatable portal into a world that seems more like our own every day.”
— Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review
“Working in the tradition of The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984, Our Missing Hearts is at its core a parable about the wages of fear, how it can lead to bigotry, racism and institutionalized hatred… The notion of the accidental warrior is one of the many generous and compassionate aspects of Ng’s story — the idea that there is something brave in everyone — if only it can be reached. ”
— Washington Post
“Heart-wrenching and brilliant... hold[s] a mirror up to the present and remind us of the importance of remembering our past... This is the book I will pass down to my children when they ask me what it was like to live through this time in history. ”
— Boston Globe
“ Celeste Ng’s clenched fist of a novel Our Missing Hearts (Penguin Press) tells the story of Bird, a 12-year-old boy gasping for hope and love in an America that runs on scapegoating and fear-mongering. ... Ng has crafted an unwaveringly dark fairy tale for a world that has stopped making sense. ”
“[Ng's] most powerful work to date. ”
“Set about five minutes into the future, the latest novel from celebrated author Celeste Ng ( Little Fires Everywhere ) considers the sinister trajectory of dark-side American decay. ... Ng delivers a cautionary tale for those who think: It can’t happen here. ”
“Celeste Ng is very good at writing social commentary that’s too full of heart and humanity to feel preachy. ... As Ng shifts perspectives and fills in the details of how America became the version of itself her book describes, things get scarily real."
“With a chilling premise and frequently stunning prose, this dystopian drama is a jolt to the system and a booster of hope. ”
— Oprah Daily
“A compelling and brutal telling of a too-real dystopia…. A thought-provoking book that will stay with you long after the last page. ”
— Country Living
“Celeste Ng has made a name for herself as a bestselling author and with books like this one, it’s no surprise. Timely and stunning , this novel about the bond between a mother and child in a society living in fear, will absolutely embed itself in your heart. ”
— Barnes & noble
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Celeste Ng’s Dystopia Is Uncomfortably Close to Reality
“Our Missing Hearts” explores a fictional world where Chinese Americans are spurned and books are recycled into toilet paper.
Credit... Deena So'Oteh
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By Stephen King
- Sept. 22, 2022
OUR MISSING HEARTS, by Celeste Ng
The definition of “dystopia ” in the Oxford English Dictionary is bald and to the point: “An imaginary place in which everything is as bad as possible.”
Literature is full of examples. In “The Time Machine,” the Morlocks feed and clothe the Eloi, then eat them. “The Handmaid’s Tale” deals with state-sanctioned rape. The firefighters in “Fahrenheit 451” incinerate books instead of saving them. In “1984”’s infamous Room 101, Winston Smith is finally broken when a cage filled with rats is dumped over his head. In “Our Missing Hearts,” Celeste Ng’s dystopian America is milder, which makes it more believable — and hence, more upsetting.
Noah Gardner, known as Bird, is a 12-year-old Chinese American living with his father in Cambridge, Mass. His mother is a fugitive, on the run because she wrote a supposedly subversive poem titled “All Our Missing Hearts.” America is living under PACT — the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act — which became law during a confused and economically disastrous period known as the Crisis. (We’re given more details about this Crisis than we actually need.)
Before the Crisis, Bird’s father was a linguist. Now he works in a library, shelving books. In Ng’s version of the American Nightmare, there’s no need to burn books. “We pulp them,” a helpful librarian tells Bird. (Bird doesn’t tell her he’s picturing book bonfires, but she intuits it.) “Much more civilized, right? Mash them up, recycle them into toilet paper. Those books wiped someone’s rear end a long time ago.”
Less gaudy than firefighters burning books, but more believable. The empty shelves Bird sees in his father’s library speak volumes.
Under PACT, the children of parents considered culturally or politically subversive are “re-placed” in foster families. When Bird is given a clue to his mother’s whereabouts he goes in search of her, and much of Ng’s firmly written and well-executed novel deals with his adventures along the way. In that sense, the book is a classic tale of the hero’s journey, said hero young enough to make the trip from innocence to experience with surprisingly little bitterness directed toward the parent who has abandoned him. That his mother, Margaret Miu, had no choice would make no difference to most children, it seems to me; abandoned is abandoned.
We have heard this tale of government scapegoating before, which adds to its power rather than detracting from it. Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany’s economic malaise. Trump told us to fear migrant caravans full of “bad hombres.” Here it’s Asian people in general and Chinese Americans in particular who are held responsible for everything that’s gone wrong — blame those who don’t look like White America. In New York’s Chinatown, street names have been censored: “Someone — everyone — has tried to make the Chinese disappear.” Flag pins decorate every lapel.
Because Ng’s storytelling is so calm — serene, almost — the occasional explosions of violence are authentically horrifying, as when Bird observes a man punch a Chinese woman, knock her to the ground, then kick her repeatedly. There is no reason except for her otherness … and perhaps the fact that she looks well off. He then kills her little dog, breaking its back “the way he might crush a soda can, or a cockroach.”
On another level, “Our Missing Hearts” is a meditation on the sometimes accidental power of words. Why are Mr. Gardner’s library shelves so empty? Because students must not have access to books that “might expose them to dangerous ideas.” This isn’t dystopian fiction but actual fact, as rancorous school curriculum meetings and protests across the United States have proved. The Florida Parental Rights Bill, signed by Governor DeSantis in March of this year, is basically a free pass to text censorship.
When a Black girl is shot dead at an anti-PACT rally, the phrase “Our Missing Hearts” — emblazoned on the sign she was carrying; she’d read Margaret’s poem — becomes a rallying cry. Bird’s mother had no intention of achieving fame or infamy because of that line; it was from a poem about — of all things — pomegranates. Rodney King (“Can’t we all just get along?”) and George Floyd (“I can’t breathe”) weren’t intentionally phrasemaking either. King’s line was an off-the-cuff plea for peace and Floyd only wanted to get the cop off his neck before he died. Yet these lines resonate. Governments are right to fear words. They can change hearts and topple tyrannies. By the same token, they can increase the chokeholds of some tyrants: witch hunt, fake news, I rest my case.
I won’t give away the splendid conclusion of Ng’s book; suffice it to say, the climax deals with the power of words, the power of stories and the persistence of memory. It’s impossible not to be moved by Margaret Miu’s courage, or to applaud her craftiness. Is her final word to the world a kind of propaganda? Yes, but sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.
There are peculiar lapses that must be noted. Covid-19 doesn’t exist in “Our Missing Hearts,” although there can be no doubt that the pandemic has given rise to dark conspiracies having to do with China, where Covid first appeared. Donald Trump and others were happy to call it the China Flu. Ng likewise ignores social media — there’s a single glancing mention near the end of the book — although few innovations in human history have done more to focus and amplify racist tropes. In fact, social media encourages large numbers of people to deliberately turn away from the truth.
Ng succeeds in spite of these occasional blind spots, partly because her outrage is contained and focused, and mostly because she is often captivated by the very words she is using. Bird’s father’s oldest habit, we’re told, is “taking words apart like old clocks to show the gears still ticking inside.” The gears in this story for the most part mesh very well. And Bird is a brave and believable character, who gives us a relatable portal into a world that seems more like our own every day.
Stephen King’s latest novel is “Fairy Tale.”
OUR MISSING HEARTS, by Celeste Ng | 352 pp. | Penguin Press | $29
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Celeste ng makes the case for art as a weapon against oppression in her new novel.
Celeste Ng's Our Missing Hearts is not exactly dystopian or alternate history, as many events described in her latest novel have in fact happened, or are thinly disguised versions of real-life tragedies.
"The Crisis," for example, is a worldwide economic breakdown allegedly caused by China's market manipulation, and is clearly a fictional stand-in for the pandemic. Existential threats to certain individuals or groups — a common trope in dystopian novels — are already a part of U.S. history, such as slavery, discrimination against Asians, and forced assimilation of Indigenous children. Other problems mentioned in the novel are ongoing: police brutality, racial violence and economic inequality.
Celeste ng on her latest novel 'our missing hearts'.
Our Missing Hearts is saddled by grief. But it is also propelled by hope, less a grim prognosis of the future than an impassioned call for a full reckoning with the past.
In this sense, Ng's narrative does borrow one important element from dystopian fiction — the idea of memory erasure, imposed by a repressive regime and borne by individuals cut off from their cultural legacy.
The book begins in media res , from 12-year-old Bird Gardner's point-of-view. As befitting his name, the boy embodies Emily Dickinson's vision of hope as "the thing with feathers - / That perches in the soul - / And sings the tune without the words." Bird carries, literally and figuratively, the novel's "seedling" — its narrative arc and moral weight.
As in a fairy tale, Bird must first embark on a harrowing quest to find out the truth about his mother, Margaret Miu, an Asian American poet who has apparently abandoned her family.
'everything i never told you' exposed in biracial family's loss.
Bird's best friend Sadie thinks Margaret is the leader of an underground resistance movement, which manifests itself in frequent, startling acts: intersections painted blood-red; giant red hearts, made by yarns and entwined with ghostly dolls, which sway from trees in parks.
Bird's father, Ethan, forbids his son to mention Margaret's name to anyone. Subject to state surveillance, Ethan and Bird must conform to the safe code of conduct as prescribed by PACT (The Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act).
Thanks to its seamless structure, Our Missing Hearts resembles a box of myths transmuting into fresh, symbiotic insights when converged. Bird's quest, a bus trip from Cambridge, Mass., to New York City, evokes the Greek myth of Orpheus, in which the hero must travel to the underworld to find his beloved. It also echoes "The Boy Who Drew Cats," a Japanese folktale about a boy who, by drawing cats on the wall of a monster's lair and "keeping to the small," succeeds in killing the monster, a giant rat.
Ng's clever juxtaposition of the Orpheus myth (a beloved's eternal absence transformed into art) with the Japanese cat myth (an artist's triumph over evil) sums up the tragedy/hope duality at the heart of Our Missing Hearts . As well, her mesmerizing storytelling "keeps to the small," by conjuring finely drawn Asian Americans characters and dismantling their stereotypical portrayal as conformists or lacking in emotional complexity.
The Chinese character for Margaret's surname, Miu, contains the ideographic roots for "beast" and "domesticated cat." The more Bird learns about his mother, the more he realizes that Margaret is neither ideologically driven nor traditionally homebound — but someone awakened to systemic injustice by testifying to her own, and others' sufferings.
A Mother And Daughter Upset Suburban Status Quo In 'Little Fires Everywhere'
The novel affirms Ng's conviction that aesthetic means can be employed effectively to resist oppression. For example, the author describes how the poet Anna Akhmatova memorized her poetry and transmitted it orally to trusted friends to evade Stalin's censorship.
Similarly, Margaret meticulously records stories told by parents whose children have been taken from them under PACT. Performance art, as a form of nonviolent protest, is another example of "keeping to the small." While this type of protest takes place in public, passersby are affected privately, "forcing them to take note, [unsettling] them days and weeks later, knotting a tangle in their chest."
Ng suggests that these peaceful but thought-provoking measures in the long run may be more far-reaching and cost-effective than mass rallies that disrupt daily activities and compromise public safety.
Finally, while Ng's novel represents a critique of late capitalist, culturally white America, its inspirations seem to be drawn from Václav Havel's celebrated 1978 essay, " The Power of the Powerless ," on the ways that an individual can undermine the machinery of a repressive state:
... [I]n its most original and broadest sense, living within the truth covers a vast territory whose outer limits are vague and difficult to map, a territory full of modest expressions of human volition .... Most of these expressions remain elementary revolts against manipulation: you simply straighten your backbone and live in greater dignity as an individual.
"A territory full of modest expressions of human volition" is also the profound, elegant message of Our Missing Hearts . Celeste Ng's latest work depicts life-like Asian Americans who hope to make peace with the past and change the future by taking small, self-assured steps.
Thúy Đinh is a freelance critic and literary translator. Her work can be found at thuydinhwriter.com . She tweets @ThuyTBDinh.
Review: ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ author Celeste Ng ventures boldly into the dark future
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On the Shelf
'Our Missing Hearts'
By Celeste Ng Penguin Press: 352 pages, $29 If you buy books linked on our site, The Times may earn a commission from Bookshop.org , whose fees support independent bookstores.
At the entrance to the Planet Word museum in Washington, D.C., stands a remarkable sculpture designed to resemble a weeping willow. However, instead of leaves, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer ’s tree has tiny speakers drooping from each branch that play 360 different spoken languages, creating a deliberate Tower of Babel, a cacophony of voices that immerses visitors in our shared human need for expression.
When you finish Celeste Ng ’s stunning new dystopian novel, “ Our Missing Hearts ,” you’ll understand why this sculpture comes to mind. The simplest way to put it without spoiling anything is to say that at the core of Ng’s narrative — a 12-year-old boy’s epic quest to find his missing mother — is the all-important question of how we communicate.
Yes, Noah Gardner, whose mother called him Bird, will leave home, endure trials and perform feats, just like any classical hero. But Ng — whose spectacular 2014 debut, “ Everything I Never Told You ,” was followed by 2017’s equally trenchant “Little Fires Everywhere” — roots her hero’s journey in books and libraries.
Bird’s mother, Margaret Miu, a daughter of Chinese immigrants, is a poet of some stature whose career ended when the United States took a turn into hard xenophobia and passed PACT. The Preserving of American Cultures and Traditions Act encourages bigotry against many groups, particularly Asian Americans , partly in response to China’s increasingly powerful role in the global economy after “The Crisis.”
After Margaret’s disappearance, Bird’s father loses his prestigious position as a linguistics professor. Given a low-level archives job, he must move with his son to a tiny apartment where they face each day with grim resignation. Bird’s main consolation is a friend named Sadie, whose memories of her storytelling parents fill Bird with longing. He remembers his own mother’s stories, and, after receiving a strange missive from her — a page covered with drawings of cats — he also recalls a book she once read to him. The clues begin to constitute a treasure map, leading to the local library he’s been discouraged from visiting.
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There, a librarian accidentally reveals that her collection is also a way of transmitting messages to underground fighters. Many members of the resistance use bright red hearts in their campaigns (such as a truck filled with heart-marked pingpong balls dumped in a river) in a nod to Margaret’s best-known poetry collection, “All Our Missing Hearts.”
In essence, his mother’s poetry becomes a weapon, a tool of resistance — and also a way back to her. Naturally, an epic hero needs a deputy; Bird’s first act is to find Sadie, who has been taken from her home — her Black mother was automatically suspect — and sent to live with a set of bland, compliant foster parents.
One of Ng’s most poignant tricks in this novel is to bury its central tragedy — the forcible separation of children from their parents — in the middle of the action. This raises the narrative from the specific story of a confused boy and his defeated father to a reflection on the universal bond between parents and children, a core value sacrificed on the pyre of Ng’s populist authoritarianism.
Sadie is more than an archetypal sidekick; she is a prod to action. Juggled between foster parents, the rebellious young woman has always found ways to stay true to her upbringing. Early on, she cut her own mass of curly hair with kitchen shears rather than endure a caretaker’s comb. Even in early adolescence, Sadie believes in resistance, and she believes her parents (and Bird’s) belong to it. “She’s one of them,” Sadie insists to Bird. “She’s out there somewhere … Just like my parents.”
As Bird ventures into danger, we begin to understand his father’s extreme caution and fear differently; he seems less a man shut down by adversity and more a valiant protector of his son. We also understand what often grounds true rebellion: Sadie, like Bird, has known parental love, the kind that allows people to stop fearing “What if?” and start insisting “Even if ... “
Things get much busier in the second half of “Our Missing Hearts.” Bird and Sadie wind up in a Manhattan as chaotic as ever, though even scarier, sheltered by a rich eccentric from Margaret’s past (essentially the deus ex machina here). Coming together, even in small communities, makes a difference during dark times. We all understand that now, having hunkered down with pandemic pods of our own. Comrades inspire bravery in big and little ways.
Review: Emily St. John Mandel gets back to the future
‘Sea of Tranquility,’ Emily St. John Mandel’s new novel, is as ambitious as ‘Station Eleven,’ again using sci-fi tropes to ask deeply human questions.
This is where Margaret departs from her own group. Yes, she’s still alive, and yes, she’s been on the run; neither of those facts spoils the book’s denouement. Margaret reminds us of true moral courage, plotting a nonviolent but highly effective scheme to disrupt the PACT regime. As Ng tells us at the end of an Author’s Note, “ Václav Havel ’s classic 1978 essay ‘The Power of the Powerless’ changed my thinking about the impact a single individual could have in dismantling a long-established system. I hope he’s right.”
Like many of her fellow writers of dystopian fiction, including Margaret Atwood , P.D. James, Philip K. Dick and Hillary Jordan, Ng harnesses the power of the David-and-Goliath story — a prototypical quest story that has the benefit of maybe being real. Or if it isn’t, it accords with history. The asymmetrical power of a smaller group pitted against a large, corrupt state is more than just a great storytelling trope. It has happened many times in recorded history. It is happening today, for instance in Ukraine .
While briefly reunited with his mother — this book is also a parent-child love story — Bird believes Margaret when she says she will return to him after she’s accomplished her mission. But we already understand that the government will find her. We also know that, while she acted alone, she isn’t the lone resister. Others exist; others will rise up.
The author concludes with the same controlled tone that opened the novel, showing us a new generation of resisters, including Bird and Sadie and their confreres, who start to think about what comes next for them as friends and human beings. “Our Missing Hearts” will land differently for individual readers. One element we shouldn’t miss is Ng’s bold reversal of the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. It is the drive for conformity, the suppression of our glorious cacophony, that will doom us. And it is the expression of individual souls that will save us.
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: A deeper look at the chillingly prescient second season
The nation fell fast and right under everyone’s noses.
Patrick is a freelance critic who tweets @TheBookMaven .
Book Club: If You Go
What: Novelist Celeste Ng joins the L.A. Times Book Club to discuss “Our Broken Hearts” with columnist Patt Morrison .
When: Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. Pacific .
Where: Live streaming online. Sign up on Eventbrite for tickets and autographed books.
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Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng review – an all-too-close dystopia
A boy’s search for his mother, a freedom-loving poet who opposes America’s authoritarian regime, makes for a shaky follow-up to Little Fires Everywhere
I n a not-too-distant future, following economic and social turmoil, an authoritarian government has taken power in the US. Civil liberties have been rolled back. Wrung out by years of crisis, the population largely aquiesces in its loss of freedom. The country’s leaders stoke fears about the rise of China, pass draconian laws to enforce patriotic behaviour, ban books and foment hatred against PAOs: People of Asian Origin.
Depressingly, not much about the dystopian setting in Celeste Ng’s Our Missing Hearts seems that far-fetched. Even the passing of a bill entitled “Preserving American Culture and Traditions” feels like a plausible extrapolation from current events. “PACT will protect us from the very real threat of those who undermine us from within,” the unnamed president tells the American people. The bill’s provisions include wide-ranging measures to stamp out all forms of internal dissent, and it gives the government the power to remove children from parents deemed un-American.
Amid this creeping oppression, in Cambridge, Massachusetts – once a bastion of liberal tolerance and academic excellence – 12-year-old Noah is growing up under the care of his dad, Ethan. Ethan is an affable, bookish man, but like almost everyone else, he’s unwilling to challenge the forces of reaction. Demoted from his academic post to working as a librarian, he advocates keeping quiet and carrying on.
Things are not so simple for Noah. Half Asian on his mother’s side, and therefore already suspect, he’s a quirky, sensitive child who insists on being called Bird, a nickname of his own invention. And his absent mother, Margaret, who abandoned the family when he was eight, is widely regarded as a traitor to the new regime.
As the novel opens, Bird has just received an unexpected message from his mother. Just enough backstory is sketched in for us to grasp the nature of Bird’s world and the terrible dilemma in which he finds himself. Will he stick with his compromising father, or follow the clues in the message in the hope of finding his way back to his politically undesirable mother?
It’s not giving too much away, I hope, to reveal that Bird chooses the second option and goes on a journey that reveals the moral bankruptcy of the regime and introduces him to the handful of people resisting it.
Our Missing Hearts follows the blockbuster success of Ng’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere , an international bestseller which was adapted for television. That too is a book about a failed utopian experiment, though on a more modest and naturalistic scale. Set in the planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, during the 1990s, Little Fires Everywhere took the form of a whodunnit, the solving of which anatomises the moral failings of the privileged Richardson family and their friends, and explores themes of motherhood, class, art and identity.
In other ways, Our Missing Hearts feels like a deliberate and almost defiant break with the previous novel. Little Fires Everywhere was written in unflashy prose that built a credible, specific world through the accumulation of patiently observed details. It packed a large number of characters into a tight, naturalistic space and forced them to interact, running several interlocking stories. Our Missing Hearts opts for a swooning lyrical style that dispenses with quotation marks the better to illuminate its major themes – racial oppression, motherhood, the redemptive power of story and myth – but is populated by barely half a dozen characters. Bird’s quest resolves very quickly, and halfway through the book, the only real question that remains is how far Margaret and the opposition movement are willing to go to challenge the regime.
Margaret, a freedom-loving poet, is clearly a descendant of Mia in Little Fires Everywhere, a freedom-loving photographer-artist whose passion and integrity expose the conformity and moral blindness of Shaker Heights. As a depiction of the clash of two value systems, Little Fires Everywhere was simplistic, reserving its sympathy only for those characters who clearly had the author’s approval – Mia, her daughter Pearl, the migrant Cantonese worker Bebe, hardworking Mr Yang. The book’s moral flavour of judgment and deserved comeuppances was too overt, but at least it depicted its monsters with brio: the repressed busybody Elena Richardson, the childless McCulloughs and the racist music teacher, Miss Peters.
Presumably, the brutal world of Our Missing Hearts is held together by a mixture of fanatics, timeservers and decent people who believe they’re doing the right thing. But the author doesn’t dramatise the machinery of oppression or attempt to present the viewpoints of its sympathisers. As a result, the dystopia feels underpowered and generic, and opposing it doesn’t seem as dangerous as it ought to. The parallels between the author’s invented world and ours are clear enough – banned books, enforced patriotism, attacks on racial minorities – but it lacks strangeness and specificity. It’s conscientiously rooted in today’s crises, but doesn’t take us any further. There are no imaginative leaps comparable to Margaret Atwood’s handmaids, Orwell’s Newspeak or Room 101, or the rag-bag troupe of players performing Shakespeare in Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven . As dystopias go, the world of Our Missing Hearts ends up seeming considerably less bad than life in, say, Xinjiang or North Korea, never mind Gilead or Airstrip One.
The book’s major theme is storytelling, as, deprived of his mother, Bird treasures the stories she shared with him: “Stories about warriors and princesses, poor brave girls and boys, monsters and magicians . The brother and sister who outwitted the witch and found their way home. The girl who saved her swan-brothers from enchantment. Ancient myths that made sense of the world, why sunflowers nod, why echoes linger, why spiders spin.”
In exile, Margaret’s work becomes a source of hope for the opposition and a collective memory for those who are suffering and silenced. “Telling the stories that those who needed to tell could not say, now grieving, now angry, now tender, a thousand people shouting through her mouth.” This sentence contains an allusion to Requiem by the Soviet poet Anna Akhmatova – a reference that appears at multiple points. Like Margaret, Akhmatova’s work memorialised the victims of political terror, and Akhmatova lost contact with her only son, Lev, who spent years in the Soviet penal system.
It is a telling but uneasy parallel to pursue further. Lev eventually emerged and became a government-approved ideologue whose work is cited as an inspiration for Putinism. Such is the moral complexity of the real world – and the kind of unexpected twist that this book lacks. Our Missing Hearts, like Margaret, insists on the redemptive power of fairytales. And within their unambiguous moral worlds, happily-ever-afters are achievable. But in real life, we know that simplistic narratives are just as likely to be the road into dystopia as the road out of it.
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Celeste Ng previews her third novel: 'It's about keeping a shared sense of humanity alive'
Celeste Ng could not avoid writing a book about the collective hell we've all been through. The author, whose first two novels center on families both complicated and tragic, set out to create another domestic story, this time about a mother and a son, but her imagination had other plans.
"I soon found myself wrestling with questions raised by the larger reckonings taking place — or being avoided — in the past few years," Ng tells EW.
What she created instead is another heartfelt page-turner, but this time set inside a society completely consumed by its own fear. Our Missing Hearts , which will be published in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats on Oct. 4 by Penguin Press in the U.S., by Little, Brown in the U.K., and by Penguin Canada in Canada, follows 12-year-old Bird Gardner. The young boy lives with his father, a former linguist currently working among the stacks at the Harvard University library, in a dystopian but not unfamiliar version of our current world. There are laws spawned by economic instability and unrest and created to "preserve American culture" that allow the government to do things like relocate the children of dissidents and censor books that could be considered unpatriotic.
Bird's mother, a Chinese American poet, seemingly abandoned the family three years ago, and he has learned to disown her and her work. The novel will trace the boy's discovery of a mysterious letter and his eventual search for his mother, which leads him to uncover a trove of secret libraries that draw him to New York City.
The book was inspired, Ng says, by questions like "Can we actually make a difference?" and "How can we teach our children to make the world better when we ourselves have failed to do so?"
"To me, Our Missing Hearts is about keeping a sense of shared humanity alive in dark, cynical, and isolating times," Ng says. "And I hope it resonates with readers."
With her third book, Ng will look to continue a string of highly successful projects. Her 2014 debut, Everything I Never Told You , about a Chinese American family in small-town Ohio devastated by the accidental death of their middle daughter, was a critical favorite that went on to be published in more than 30 languages. Her sophomore novel, Little Fires Everywhere , was a No. 1 New York Times best-seller and was adapted into a Hulu miniseries starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.
Our Missing Hearts is available for preorder now.
- Celeste Ng has become the novelist of the moment
- How celebrity book clubs are changing authors' careers
- Read EW's review of Little Fires Everywhere
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Look Inside | Reading Guide
Our Missing Hearts
By celeste ng, by celeste ng read by lucy liu and celeste ng, category: literary fiction, category: literary fiction | audiobooks.
Oct 04, 2022 | ISBN 9780593632673 | 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 --> | ISBN 9780593632673 --> Buy
Oct 04, 2022 | ISBN 9780593492543 | 6 x 9 --> | ISBN 9780593492543 --> Buy
Oct 04, 2022 | ISBN 9780593492550 | ISBN 9780593492550 --> Buy
Oct 04, 2022 | 600 Minutes | ISBN 9780593629611 --> Buy
Oct 04, 2022 | 592 Minutes | ISBN 9780593629628 --> Buy
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Oct 04, 2022 | ISBN 9780593632673
Oct 04, 2022 | ISBN 9780593492543
Oct 04, 2022 | ISBN 9780593492550
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Oct 04, 2022 | ISBN 9780593629611
Oct 04, 2022 | ISBN 9780593629628
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About Our Missing Hearts
An instant New York Times bestseller • A New York Times Notable Book of 2022 • Named a Best Book of 2022 by People, TIME Magazine, The Washington Post, USA Today , NPR, Los Angeles Times , and Oprah Daily, and more • A Reese’s Book Club Pick From the #1 bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere , comes the inspiring new novel about a mother’s unbreakable love. “It’s impossible not to be moved.” —Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review “Riveting, tender, and timely.” — People, Book of the Week “Thought-provoking, heart-wrenching . . . I was so invested in the future of this mother and son, and I can’t wait to hear what you think of this deeply suspenseful story!” — Reese Witherspoon (Reese’s Book Club Pick) Twelve-year-old Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library. His mother Margaret, a Chinese American poet, left without a trace when he was nine years old. He doesn’t know what happened to her—only that her books have been banned—and he resents that she cared more about her work than about him. Then one day, Bird receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, and soon he is pulled into a quest to find her. His journey will take him back to the many folktales she poured into his head as a child, through the ranks of an underground network of heroic librarians, and finally to New York City, where he will finally learn the truth about what happened to his mother, and what the future holds for them both. Our Missing Hearts is an old story made new, of the ways supposedly civilized communities can ignore the most searing injustice. It’s about the lessons and legacies we pass on to our children, and the power of art to create change.
Listen to a sample from Our Missing Hearts
Also by celeste ng.
About Celeste Ng
Celeste Ng is the number one New York Times bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere, and Our Missing Hearts. Ng is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim… More about Celeste Ng
Sea of Tranquility
The Violin Conspiracy
Hour of the Witch
Klara and the Sun
The Lincoln Highway
The Midnight Library
“Thought-provoking, heart-wrenching . . . It follows the story of a young boy named Bird on the search for his mother Margaret, a poet whose work was deemed unpatriotic. I was so invested in the future of this mother and son, and I can’t wait to hear what you think of this deeply suspenseful story!” —Reese Witherspoon (Reese’s Book Club October ’22 Pick) “Firmly written and well-executed . . . a meditation on the sometimes accidental power of words . . . I won’t give away the splendid conclusion of Ng’s book; suffice it to say . . . It’s impossible not to be moved by Margaret Miu’s courage, or to applaud her craftiness . . . Ng succeeds . . . partly because her outrage is contained and focused, and mostly because she is often captivated by the very words she is using . . . Bird is a brave and believable character, who gives us a relatable portal into a world that seems more like our own every day.” —Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review “In this riveting, tender and timely book, one mother speaks ‘into the darkness’ with love. Celeste Ng pleads: Listen.” — People , Book of the Week “ Our Missing Hearts reflects our headlines back to us, but it also powerfully and persuasively offers hope for changing those headlines. In a final moving turn, the novel dramatizes how bearing witness through art and simply speaking up can melt indifference. That sounds sentimental, I know, but Ng’s own masterful telling of this tale of governmental cruelty and the shadow armies of ordinary citizens who both facilitate and resist is its own best testimony to the unpredictable possibilities of storytelling.” — Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air “ Our Missing Hearts is at its core a parable about the wages of fear, how it can lead to bigotry, racism and institutionalized hatred . . . elevated, mythic . . . depicting the workings of control and domination throughout a culture and a nation . . . The notion of the accidental warrior is one of the many generous and compassionate aspects of Ng’s story—the idea that there is something brave in everyone—if only it can be reached.” — The Washington Post “Shot through with vivid color and rising hope, an unflinching yet life-affirming drama about the power of art and love to push back in dangerous times . . . Ng’s brilliance lies in leaving the reader with an unshakable belief that against all odds, people will find the courage to resist, revolt, and defend . . . remarkable.” — Oprah Daily “Propelled by hope, less a grim prognosis of the future than an impassioned call for a full reckoning with the past . . . resembles a box of myths transmuting into fresh, symbiotic insights when converged.” —NPR.org “A book you won’t be able to put down, nor stop thinking about long after you do . . . Moves from a meditation on our current political and social state to a tight suspenseful thriller . . . Ng’s paragraphs are built with sentences so lovely and lyrical you likely will find yourself marking passages in every chapter to share with others.” — USA Today “Devastating . . . Heartbreaking, beautifully written and unforgettable—and ultimately a celebration of the power of poetry and storytelling.” — The Seattle Times “Heart-wrenching and brilliant . . . This is the book I will pass down to my children when they ask me what it was like to live through this time in history: the pandemic, anti-Asian attacks, and the racial justice protests that have come to define our moment. It captures the difficulty of bearing witness at personal cost to oneself and caring about things even when they seem beyond fixing.” — The Boston Globe “Stunning . . . At the core of Ng’s narrative—a 12-year-old boy’s epic quest to find his missing mother—is the all-important question of how we communicate . . . Poignant.” — Los Angeles Times “Suspenseful . . . Ng unflinchingly depicts acts of racism, family fragmentation and the violence seamed into American identity. Ng’s book is also an homage to librarians who are the vanguard of resistance to PACT . . . Ng excels at narrative tension and at mustering readers’ fear and outrage . . . a powerful reflection and grim augury . . . Like George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro and Octavia E. Butler, Ng pays close enough attention to write tomorrow’s headlines.” — The San Francisco Chronicle “The stunning story Ng beautifully weaves is the perfect book for our present moment—a cautionary tale of what happens when fear goes unchecked and of the power of art and brave individuals to bring social change. Ng writes in her author’s note that ‘it is hard to analyze your own era,’ but with Our Missing Hearts , she has nailed it.” — ELLE.com “This is a haunting, lyrical look at the power of love, art and banding together to work toward change. It’s a heartwarming, fast-paced read that will challenge you to think more deeply about our responsibilities to one another and society’s most vulnerable.” — Good Housekeeping “Ng has crafted an unwaveringly dark fairy tale for a world that has stopped making sense.” — Vogue “Ng effortlessly combines a character-led family story with a detective tale, a tribute to books and storytelling and a confrontation with history . . . quick and poised . . . exceptionally powerful and scaldingly relevant.” — The Guardian (UK) “The tension is inescapable. Bird’s journey, as he searches for Margaret, has a mythical quality . . . Language and story, her new work suggests, cannot be taken for granted; stories must always be heard, always be told.” — Minneapolis Star Tribune “So compelling the reader will immediately want to know how it ends . . . uncomfortable and necessary.” — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “The quest to find and flex the power of language is the central conceit of this book. And when we finally meet Bird’s poet mother, Ng’s prose quickens, becoming more complex, the ideas more nuanced, the relationships spikier . . . In chronicling the specificity of parental love, Our Missing Hearts pierces and reanimates our weary ones.” — WBUR.org “A jolt to the system and a booster of hope.” — Oprah Daily, Fall Fiction Preview “[Ng’s] most powerful work to date.” — People “Bold, powerful, and timely.” — AV Club “A compelling and brutal telling of a too-real dystopia . . . It’s a thought-provoking book that will stay with you long after the last page.”— Country Living “Deeply poetic, beautifully and succinctly written, and thoroughly immersive . . . a world we can exist within only briefly, but it makes a permanent heart-shaped imprint.” —Shondaland “Powerful and profound.” —KMUW “[Ng’s] talent is as apparent as ever. The novel shines . . . poignant and timely . . . a gut-punch.” — PureWow “Ng is very good at writing social commentary that’s too full of heart and humanity to feel preachy . . . almost folkloric . . . But as Ng shifts perspectives and fills in the details of how America became the version of itself her book describes, things get scarily real.” — Vulture , Books We Can’t Wait to Read This Fall “What an immense joy it is to be back in the trusty hands of Celeste Ng! Like Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You, Our Missing Hearts is a careful study of a family trying their best to live their lives in a world that is rooting against them . . . [W]hat’s particularly striking is Celeste Ng’s ability to show us the horrors of this world while also showing how banal it’s become for our characters . . . This is a tale that is propulsive and poignant in equal measure; it’s a much-needed love letter to the written word.” — Literary Hub , 22 Novels You Need to Read This Fall “Showcases Ng’s own ingenuity and range. Brilliantly envisioned and filled with Ng’s signature tender, intimate character work and complex family dynamics, this coming-of-age story asks what it means to be a good parent or a good citizen when every child is at risk, as well as what power art has to challenge injustice.” — Shelf Awareness “Stunning . . . A gorgeous and provocative novel that asks readers to look critically at American society and reject all modes of tyranny in favor of company, acceptance and love.” — Bookreporter “Known for focusing on families, race, and relationships, Ng raises the bar another notch in a story intensified by reference to such police violence, political protest, book banning, and discrimination against people of color. Ng’s beautiful yet chilling tale will resonate with readers who enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Jessamine Chan’s more recent School for Good Mothers. As with her previous novels, her storytelling will not disappoint.” — Library Journal (starred review) “Sensitive, nuanced, and vividly drawn . . . Thoroughly engrossing and deeply moving . . . Taut and terrifying, Ng’s cautionary tale transports us into an American tomorrow that is all too easy to imagine.” — Kirkus (starred review) “Remarkable . . . Ng crafts an affecting family drama out of the chilling and charged atmosphere, and shines especially when offering testimony to the power of art and storytelling . . . Ng’s latest crackles and sizzles all the way to the end.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review) “Utterly stupendous. Ng creates an exquisite story of unbreakable family bonds, lifesaving storytelling (and seemingly omniscient librarians!), brilliantly subversive art, and accidentally transformative activism. As lyrical as it is chilling, as astonishing as it is empathic, Our Missing Hearts arguably achieves literary perfection.” — Booklist (starred review) “Celeste Ng is undoubtedly at the top of her game . . . Ng’s prose highlights the fateful and sometimes absurd connections between our world and the realm of ideas, reminding readers that what is in our heads will always reveal itself in our bodies. The result is a novel that will undoubtedly impact how we connect and live in this terrifying, beautiful world.” — BookPage (starred review)
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Ng's latest novel, Our Missing Hearts, is her deepest exploration into the power of small stories, but she's been weaving them together her whole life. It
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