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“The Border of Paradise is shaped by darkness and the kind of delicious story that makes for missed train stops and bedtimes, keeping a reader up late for just one more page of dynamic character-bouncing perspective… It is the author’s stunning introduction to the literary world.” —New York Times
“Gothic in tone, epic in ambition, and creepy in spades.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Wang’s prose is beautiful and restrained, and her generous, precise characterization makes every perspective feel organic and utterly real in the face of increasingly theatrical circumstances. The result — the story of an American family stretched and manipulated into impossible shapes — is an extraordinary literary and gothic novel of the highest order.” —NPR Books
“The writing is mesmerizing and the story so real, so true, so full of heart that it broke mine in a kerjillion different ways. This is a dazzling, exquisite debut novel. A lesser writer wouldn’t have been able to pull off the kaleidoscope of perspectives that bring this complex story to life, but Wang is a master… Sub-motherfucking-lime.” —The Rumpus
“In the hands of a lesser novelist this baroque, otherworldly story would come off as dizzyingly maudlin, but in Wang’s extraordinarily assured multivocal prose it transcends genre to become an unforgettable gothic classic that will stick with you long after you’ve finished it.” —BookRiot
“Wang takes Ahab’s rant of…’madness maddened’ and infuses it through all of the characters in this book, not just the ones who are identified as crazy. A terrifying look at dysfunction, manipulation, and psychological torture and love, yes love. A very deftly written first novel.” —Lit Hub
“Touching on mental health, family drama, and human tragedy, The Border of Paradise is a moving and beautiful book.” —Electric Literature
“The portrayal of the emotional and psychological trauma experienced on some level by every character that drives the narrative is profound, unflinching, and merciless. …The writer’s sensitivity, not only in the exquisite detail of her descriptions, the psychic acuity of her observations, but also in her masterfully clear-sighted—and yes, merciless—empathy with each of her characters, no matter how desperate or misguided their actions, was a privilege to encounter.” —Strange Horizons
“Beautifully and meticulously written, The Border of Paradise‘s progression is at turns shocking and devastating. But the book is respectful and reverent to its characters, and perhaps succeeds most at giving careful renderings of their unique psychologies.” —Bookslut
“The Border of Paradise by Esme Weijun Wang opens with an imminent suicide. It’s one that Jia-Hui, wife of the man who is about to die, has been attempting to stave off for years. ‘With David,’ she says later, ‘I learned that suicide was an utterly uncontrollable act disguised as the most controllable death possible.'” —NPR Books
Esmé Weijun Wang’s debut novel, The Border of Paradise, is an intricately woven, gothic family saga that examines the legacies of decisions and indecisions made long ago. David Nowak, heir to the Nowak Piano Company, abandons his old life in Brooklyn following the end of his relationship with his first love, Marianne. He moves to Taiwan, where he meets Daisy, the intelligent, crafty daughter of a local madame, and makes her his bride. But David’s deteriorating mental health and the isolated life they choose to make after moving back to America lead to a gradually narrowing world for their children, William and Gillian, who are forced to carve out their own path in a world they only barely recognize. (Larissa Pham, “Blank, White Spaces: An Interview with Esmé Weijun Wang”)
I’ve never known a man who has taken his own life, and so I’ve never read a suicide letter, seeing as how the final words of such uncelebrated and self-condemned souls are so privately guarded. Still, I can’t help but think such letters all must be the same, because what else can be said but, over and over again, Sorry, sorry, I am so sorry, in the way that someone newly smitten can only say, I love you, I love you, I love you, like one of the Wellbrook patients I grew accustomed to in my incarcerations. In particular I am thinking of a schizophrenic woman with chin-length, ashen hair, stooped in her wheelchair, who repeated the word plum, such that the hum of that word faded into the background of everything, including the screams of other patients, the soft rush of water, plum, puh-lum, until the word shed its meaning, becoming nothing but sound.
This motel room is not as depressing as I thought it would be. Someone has taken pains to make the place palatable; I have yet to see a cockroach. Only one or two flies the size of kidney beans occasionally dive-bomb the air. The bed’s comforter itches, but is printed with an assortment of nice English roses. Note that a man conflicted about his suicide will reflexively stop and smell the proverbial roses. The cheap blue curtains let the light through, and when I first walked to the window to pull them shut I saw that one of them had been carefully stitched near the edge, where I’m assuming it was once torn, and in the end I take this all to mean that this place is as good as any to die. I didn’t want to end things anywhere near the house, where my wife could find me—or, even more horrible to consider, my children. If I had my way, I’d hang myself peacefully from one of the trees in our wood, but that seems more blasphemous than this, somehow, and I’m grateful to this humble little Motel Ponderosa of no significance, which is a small grace.
I had breakfast this morning miles from here with my son, William; my daughter, Gillian; and Daisy, who is my wife. We had bacon, and fry bread cooked in the grease, and eggs fried in whatever grease was left. I watched William sop up the yolk with a crust of bread. I watched Gillian scrape her plate, her hair in a little topknot tied with a red velvet ribbon. I watched Daisy, whose face in the light was worn smooth like a rock under the same persistent current of worry. Click, click, click, I thought, committing them to memory to be preserved and then destroyed, because even in my moribund state I could see the simple beauty of it, and silently I asked the Lord to bless my family, even if neither he nor they will ever forgive me for my desertion. Those three were persistently beset by trouble, and worse, they still loved me; so how this can be anything but a betrayal and an unfairness, I don’t know.
I’ve been returning to The Confessions more than to the Bible these days, but it’s become difficult to understand what I mean to accomplish through any style of confession. I have sinned, and I had hoped to expose and atone for my sins. I hoped to cast them out, as Christ cast the demons into swine, so that the Lord might take pity on my soul—this, despite the saying that God never gives a person more than he can handle—but what about despair? For so many years I have thought I ought to be able to handle this, and the only refrain that returned to me was I’m in pain, I’m in pain, I’m in pain. “Spare Thy servant from the power of the enemy,” said Augustine. And yet Augustine achieved sainthood, an achievement for which not even I am insane enough to dream.
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“A stunning meditation on the meaning of marriage, the limits of language, and the inescapable solitude of the mind. Esmé Weijun Wang’s writing is spellbinding; her characters are hauntingly alive.” —Jennifer DuBois, author of A Partial History of Lost Causes and Cartwheel: A Novel
“The Border of Paradise is a magnificent achievement—an exhortation for human tenderness and individual dignity in the most difficult of circumstances. Wang explores identity and family with a sense of drama that borders on gothic, without ever sacrificing the psychological texture that connects us to her characters.” —Adrienne Celt, author of The Daughters
“Esmé Weijun Wang’s relentlessly moving debut is a profound epic of potent darkness with all sorts of unexpected light. The story of the Nowak family contains notes of Lidia Yuknavitch, Christine Schutt, and Kevin Wilson and yet remains unlike anything I’ve ever read. Trauma is rendered gorgeously, from every angle, within every possibility. Whether tackling New York, California, or Taiwan, Wang performs this novel with glorious courage, ambition, passion, and style.” —Porochista Khakpour, author of Sons and Other Flammable Objects and The Last Illusion
Purchase The Border of Paradise now.
Green Apple Books on the Park, 4/17, San Francisco, CA (book launch)
DIESEL, A Bookstore, 4/24, Oakland, CA
Asian American Writers Workshop, 6/16, New York, NY
BookCourt, 6/19, Brooklyn, NY
City Lights, 1/18, San Francisco, CA
Bad Advice Reading, Green Apple Books on the Park, 4/14, San Francisco, CA
Red Ink Panel, POWERhouse Arena, 5/11, New York, NY
Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists (Esmé Weijun Wang, Sana Krasikov, Lauren Groff) @ 7:30PM, Booksmith, 5/16, San Francisco, CA
Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists (Esmé Weijun Wang, Anthony Marra, Lauren Groff) @ 7PM, DIESEL, A Bookstore, 5/18, Oakland, CA