book review: Bury What We Cannot Take by Kirsten Chen



Little A, March 20, 2018


Bury What We Cannot Take is a captivating novel about one family’s attempt to flee from Communist China in 1957. Having been granted only 3 travel visas to Hong Kong for 4 family members, Seok Koon is forced to leave one of her children behind in order to legally exit the country, and Kirsten Chen explores the ramifications of this harrowing decision.

Bury What We Cannot Take is actually everything I had hoped Girls Burn Brighter was going to be. Both novels follow two parties which have been separated and which spend the novel seeking a reunion, and in both cases, these stories are filled to the brim with tragedy. But where Girls Burn Brighter indulges (at least in my opinion – more here) a bit too heavily in the gruesome details of its characters’ plights, Bury What We Cannot Take is more interested in the kind of resilience needed to survive. Though the chapters which follow the left-behind child can be difficult to read, I felt that the narrative was approached with sensitivity, and it quickly earned my emotional investment.

This novel is deceptively short for 300 pages, and as a result, my only complaint is that at times it felt a bit rushed. Though I loved how compelling and immersive it was – I think I read 20% in one sitting and then finished it in another sitting the next day – certain plot points were glossed over, and I wouldn’t have minded spending a bit more time with the Ong family.

But ultimately, I really enjoyed this. It’s a fantastic look at Communist China and its insidious regime, which follows a host of complex, sympathetic characters aged across multiple generations. Though I hadn’t heard of Kirsten Chen before this, I’ll definitely be looking into anything she writes in the future.

Thank you to Netgalley, Little A, and Kirsten Chen for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

12 thoughts on “book review: Bury What We Cannot Take by Kirsten Chen

  1. Can’t believe I’ve never heard of this book before. It looks amazing! And the cover is a really powerful image. I’ll definitely look into this.

    Amazing review!

    Liked by 1 person

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