In Chia-Chia Lin’s debut novel, The Unpassing, we meet a Taiwanese immigrant family of six struggling to make ends meet on the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska. The father, hardworking but beaten down, is employed as a plumber and repairman, while the mother, a loving, strong-willed, and unpredictably emotional matriarch, holds the house together. When ten-year-old Gavin contracts meningitis at school, he falls into a deep, nearly fatal coma. He wakes up a week later to learn that his little sister Ruby was infected, too. She did not survive.
Routine takes over for the grieving family: the siblings care for each other as they befriend a neighboring family and explore the woods; distance grows between the parents as they deal with their loss separately. But things spiral when the father, increasingly guilt ridden after Ruby’s death, is sued for not properly installing a septic tank, which results in grave harm to a little boy. In the ensuing chaos, what really happened to Ruby finally emerges.
With flowing prose that evokes the terrifying beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, Lin explores the fallout after the loss of a child and the way in which a family is forced to grieve in a place that doesn’t yet feel like home. Emotionally raw and subtly suspenseful, The Unpassing is a deeply felt family saga that dismisses the American dream for a harsher, but ultimately more profound, reality.
"For all of its pathos, its themes of cross-cultural intermingling, its stories of immigrant arrival, marginalization and eventual accommodation, The Unpassing is a singularly vast and captivating novel, beautifully written in free-flowing prose that quietly disarms with its intermittent moments of poetic idiosyncrasy. But what makes Lin’s novel such an important book is the extent to which it probes America’s myth-making about itself, which can just as easily unmake as it can uplift."—Brian Haman, The New York Times Book Review
"Lin’s attention to detail is startling, and though she keeps close to Gavin’s childhood experience, she also allows us to read between the lines and intuit the depth of the family’s grief, financial straits and fear of belittlement from their white neighbors and colleagues. Anyone who has ever grieved—be it the loss of a person, home, country or security—will feel a sense of recognition. The Unpassing is a remarkable, unflinching debut."—Ilana Masad, The Washington Post
"Harrowing . . . In lyrical, intimate prose, Lin reveals the harsh realities of working class life in 1980s Alaska and the failed promises of the American dream."—Thomas Gebremedhin, The Wall Street Journal
"An arresting portrait of an immigrant family’s pivotal moment of crisis . . . a nuanced portrayal of the American frontier . . . Lin’s spare, lyric prose sets an elemental stage, a place indifferent to human suffering, cycling through life and death on a larger scale . . . The Unpassing is a powerful debut from an author to watch."—K.B. Thors, San Francisco Chronicle
"[A] grim, breathtakingly beautiful debut novel . . . Lin excels when she gets small, with finely observed renderings of the family’s surroundings . . . The way this chilling, captivating book concludes will delight as much as it challenges, offering as it does a blend of escape, tragedy, triumph, loss and what we’ve expected all along."—Nathan Deuel, Los Angeles Times
"What The Unpassing does is so brutal yet intensely immersive that questioning Lin’s choices feels like asking for a novel far less authentic . . . It’s brutal, but marvelous. The prose is so sparse that it feels designed to describe Alaska, and Alaska alone."—Kamil Ashan, The A.V. Club
"In this spare, deeply felt debut novel, Lin resists received wisdom about the American dream to craft a family saga about the difficulty of grieving far from home."—Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire
"The Unpassing took me a while to get through, but not because I was bored. Because every single sentence was stunning . . . This isn't a page-turner. It's a full on page-savorer."—Mehera Bonner, Cosmopolitan
"A complicated and refreshingly unromantic family drama . . . One of the immediate pleasures of Lin’s writing is the heightened perception it brings to [its] environments . . . At its heart, The Unpassing is about newcomers striving in the margins between civilization and the forest for a basic sense of security that others have long taken for granted. It’s a kind of modern pioneer story, stripped of sentimentality but pulsating with both love and dread for the wilderness."—Charles Black, Outside
"Lin’s evocative passages and brilliantly observed details place the reader in a landscape rendered at turns foreboding or desolate by the family’s calamities. There is much to savor in her deft ability to conjure atmosphere."—YZ Chin, Electric Literature
“I can’t stop thinking about The Unpassing. Chia-Chia Lin captures the strangeness and beauty of childhood better than any writer in recent memory, and she is a brilliant observer of physical and emotional landscapes. Readers should be excited: this debut novel, a true work of art, displays the kind of clear and uniquely-angled vision that announces the beginning of a remarkable career.”—Jamel Brinkley, author of A Lucky Man
"The Unpassing is a breathtaking novel, full of characters as strong and as wild as the Alaskan landscape they inhabit. Sentence after gorgeous sentence, I was pulled into their eery and beautiful world. Chia-Chia Lin is a remarkable writer."—Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing
“Like the landscape it inhabits, this brilliant novel is composed of equal parts mystery, menace, and ravishment. It’s difficult to think of another recent book in which emotion mounts so steadily and inexorably, nearly imperceptibly, until the last pages arrive with almost unbearable force. Chia-Chia Lin is among the best new writers I’ve read in years.”—Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You and Cleanness
"Lin’s talent for vivid, laser-sharp prose—especially when describing Alaska’s stark beauty or the family’s eccentric temperament—is undeniable."—Kirkus Reviews
"Stunning . . . With powerful and poetic prose, Lin captures the uncertainty and insight of childhood . . . Lin's majestic writing immerses the reader in the bodily experiences of her characters, who writhe, paw, dig, salivate, and draw readers into their world."—Maggie Taft, Booklist (starred review)
Reviews from Goodreads
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