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The Border of Paradise

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  931 ratings  ·  145 reviews
An epic tale of one iconoclastic family's inheritance of madness — and money — in Brooklyn, Taiwan, and Northern California

In booming postwar Brooklyn, the Nowak Piano Company is an American success story. There is just one problem: the Nowak’s only son, David. A handsome kid and shy like his mother, David struggles with neuroses. If not for his only friend, Marianne, David
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Paperback, 286 pages
Published April 12th 2016 by The Unnamed Press
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Average rating 3.89  · 
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Rebecca
Mental illness haunts an Asian-American family in this offbeat multi-generational saga. Wang’s debut novel opens in 1968 with David Nowak reporting from the motel room where he plans to kill himself. Succeeding portions of the novel are narrated from other perspectives: David’s wife Jia-Hui, aka Daisy, whom he met in Taiwan; then their son William and his half-sister Gillian. Jia-Hui’s narrative is the most entrancing. Presented as a translation, it includes occasional foreign characters or blan ...more
Rene Denfeld
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
How can I have not read this book yet? It's astonishing. There are reviews that call it disturbing, but that's not my take. But then...look at my life, lol. There's a discussion to be had around what privileged society has decided isn't disturbing, and those books tend to be troubling for their denial of trauma, racism, mental health and more (or else they make violence into entertainment, which I find far more disturbing then a novel like this). Most of our lives are difficult and I think liter ...more
Jessica Sullivan
This dark and disturbing book examines the way that mental illness can impact an entire family.

It starts with David, a neurotic young boy who inherits his family fortune. As a young adult, David travels to Taiwan and meets a woman at a brothel whom he marries and takes back to America to start a family.

We know from the opening chapter that David commits suicide when his children are still young, and this sets the gothic tone for everything that follows. The effect this ha
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Ee.glenngmail.com
Dec 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Holy shit, that was one of the best books I’ve read but one of the most disturbing and dark too. Wow. I need some time to digest and then I’ll want to talk about it with someone.
Dorothy Young
Feb 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I am completely heartbroken by this book in all the best and most terrible ways.
Hannah
May 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars.

My god. Never have I read a novel so subtly horrifying and intensely unnerving. I can still feel myself mentally shuddering, as if something intrusive had burrowed itself underneath my skin. This book is deeply, deeply unsettling.

If I could pick three words to characterize or define this book I’d choose: Anguish. Isolation. Claustrophobic. I admit, when I scanned the summary of this novel I was doubtful and dismissive. But that’s because I realize now that it’s
...more
Gemma
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This novel lodged in my heart like love, or maybe just an open chest wound. So many books are about good people trying to do their best, but this book is about deeply, deeply flawed people who act out of an unbalanced mix of compassion and selfishness. It's hard to read sometimes. This is a story that leaves shrapnel behind.

But the thing that really makes it so challenging (in a good way!) is that it's impossible to fully sympathize with any of the characters. I loved and hated every single one
...more
Britta Böhler
I enjoyed the writing and some of the scenes were beautifully done but overall the story (and many of the main characters' actions) didnt make any sense to me.
2.5*
Dan
Jan 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Full disclosure, this author and I share a publisher. With that said, I loved this book. It started a little slow for me but picked up near the middle. By the end, I was staying up late trying to squeeze one more chapter in before bed. Much has been said about the mental illness aspects of the story; the NYT did a good write-up about it. I, instead, want to focus on the sense of isolation that permeates the novel. I've long been a fan of books that separate their characters from the larger world ...more
Richard Finkelson
Feb 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
I don't know what to say about a book with which I had zero connection. Aesthetics aside, I found most of the characters two dimensional - David, whose psychosis is his defining feature; Daisy - who is equally insane regarding the imposed seclusion of her children; and the children themselves who are an odd combination of intelligent and feral. These characters are all defined by their madness and aside from painting a poetic version of insanity, I am not sure what else the author is trying to c ...more
Cher Tan
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Amazingly executed, terrifyingly grotesque. Esmé Wang is a master in storytelling; images from scenes haunt me still. Told from the perspectives of the various characters, it is a story of post-WWII wealth, migration, secrets repressed and untold, and the ways familial patterns can wreak havoc on entire generations. It's a gothic tale with spectacular elements, conjured by a mind which knows, intimately, the darkest caves the human psyche can go.
Hailey Walmsley
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I cannot come up with any words to describe this book. Only “😦”
Abby
Apr 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, all-time-faves
I read this in two sittings on a plane and WOAH!
"Fall of the House of Usher" -- except a novel, with immigrants, and potentially more Gothicism.
Jacqueline
Nov 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was one of the most disturbing and emotionally evocative books I've ever read. I tend to gravitate toward books that make me feel a lot of things, so the fact that I found this book particularly disturbing speaks to its emotional honesty and rawness, I think. I don't want to spoil too much, but the disturbing parts weren't just the objective plot points (view spoiler) but the feeling of being ensconced in ...more
Crystal
A horrifying look at the effects of isolation and loneliness on an already vulnerable family.

This novel made me feel so claustrophobic, my chest one tight knot of anxiety, that I took a break of a few days for less emotionally involved reads. Disturbing and worthwhile but triggers abound here so tread carefully.
Emily
Feb 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a book is about entitled jerks, being trapped in an isolation of your own making, of someone else's making. It is a dark story of family trauma and sickness and abuse, decades long. I do enjoy these kind of multi-generational stories - like Eugenides' Middlesex, with which The Border of Paradise shares some themes? feelings? if not overall tone, which is even darker here, and very claustrophobic. I am glad the book switched between perspectives, because illness and upbringing or no, Davi ...more
Lina
Aug 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Not too long ago, my friend Carrie Lou and I discussed how we don't always want to know the author personally when we're reading their books, preferring to maintain a distance between art and the artist. I have to make an exception for Esmé Weijun Wang, who I've known since we were teenagers. We shared some intimate moments together, which cannot be replicated in most adult friendships I have in my life. Reading her debut novel within a few days made me feel close to her, loving the way her pros ...more
Gwen
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I just finished reading this author’s more recent book, The Collected Schizophrenias, and thought I would read this one by her as well. I went into this book with no real expectations as I found The Collected Schizophrenias, to be good, but not great. The Border of Paradise blew me away! The author has a beautiful writing style, and the story was surprising, engaging, disturbing, and shockingly realistic, all at once. The author has and portrays a keen perspective on mental illness, personalitie ...more
Michelle
This book is just... WOW! I read it slowly, I never read books slowly. But something about the writing and the style just made me slow down, I reread passages several times. I've read the same book 3x in a row before but I've never taken the time I did on a first reading the way I did here. There is so much here and its provocative and beautiful and terrible and sad and incredibly well written. Great story, great book. Even the cover art is amazing.
Jody Sperling
Mar 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Relentless. Hard. On the border of too much.
Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)
After devouring THE COLLECTED SCHIZOPHRENIAS a few weeks ago for bookclub and loving Esme Weijun Wang’s prose, I wanted to try her fiction. @brittaboehler and I decided to buddyread this one for the booktube readathon this month.

THE BORDER OF PARADISE has a fascinating premise and a focus on mental health and interracial marriage (among many other issues) that I found was really well explored and written. It is written in a series of alternating character perspectives, starting with
...more
Melissa
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wow! Pretty disturbing book but well written.
Christy Goldsmith
Aug 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just...don’t know. I don’t even know how to rate this one. Five stars for writing skill and 2.5(?) stars for the story that’s too heavy, too full of trauma, and too lacking in any redemption. I don’t even know if I can write a real review. But I did want to see how it ended, so 🤷🏼♀. ...more
Aleksandra
Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In her debut novel, Esmé Weijun Wang attempts to take her readers on a journey of mental illness. To a remarkable degree, she succeeds.

The Border of Paradise is ostensibly about a wealthy but neurotic Polish-American man, David Nowak, and the impact that his illness (and eventual suicide) has on those around him. But it becomes apparent that what sets David apart is not his illness, but the fact that he knows his brain is lying to him. In fact, all of the other main characters, save one (which I'll ad/>The
...more
Jade Ivy Monét
Apr 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Following the story of Polish-American David Nowak, we see the unfolding of his life from childhood, adulthood, marriage to his Taiwanese wife, Daisy, the birth of his two children William and Gillian, and inevitably his suicide. In the midst of his mind slipping from him, he has an affair with a childhood sweetheart, Marianne, and has a child by her. But the story is more than his affair. Honestly, it’s more than just about him. It’s a story about his wife. It’s about his daughter raised by his ...more
Nancy Chiok
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have recently started to read a book without the synopsis. I want to inject excitement into my reading regime.
This book is definitely not a disappointment. However, I was taken aback by the turn of events and then it occurs to me that it is about disease of the brain.
Without touching on the spoilers, I thought there is one person with a mental situation, there it seems there is another or it is the influence altogether?
So it got me thinking if a sane person can be mentally in
...more
Lauren Kayes
Feb 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What a beautiful gut-punch of a novel. Wang's prose is gorgeous, strong and seamless with each POV switch. About a third of the way through the book, I couldn't imagine I would like the characters by the end--and despite recoiling from their selfishness, their cruelty, their darkness, I found myself empathizing with their hurt and their love. This easily could have been a story without empathy for anyone involved, but that thrum of connection makes it powerful.

(I only own one bookshe
...more
Mike
Oct 03, 2016 added it
This is easily one of the best books I've read this year. Beautifully written, full of devastating little truths, and with an ending that continues to haunt me, months later. Though the lives of the family depicted in this book are unsettling and often dark, there are moments of grace throughout, as well. I struggle to come up with something tidy that can sum up with this book is "about," but if I had to say, I'd say it's about family, and how we both are and are not defined by the traumas in ou ...more
char
Jun 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, essentials
Lives up to the hype, imo. Definitely the kind of book I need to re-read, due to the way it unfolds over time. I was caught off guard by the plot eventually dealing with incest extensively and explicitly and wish I'd been warned about it*. I wouldn't say it's dealt with well, just because it's (intentionally) far out of the ordinary experience, but that's also what made it a little easier to get through for me.

* I just saw it's mentioned on the GR summary but I did not read this bc I
...more
Ash
Apr 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I've been dreaming about this book. it's kind of devastating. more later.

---

I am SO tired of reading books set in new york city but i love her nonfiction writing so i'm definitely going to read this.
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Esmé Weijun Wang is an award-winning mental health advocate and speaker, as well as a journalist and essayist. The Border of Paradise is her first novel. Just announced as the winner of the 2016 Graywolf Press Non-Fiction Prize for her book of essays, The Collected Schizophrenias. She lives in San Francisco.
“On the other hand, I have no project. My project is to live until I die.” 3 likes
“This is the life I'm meant to live, but it isn't without sacrifice."

I said, "I admire that."

"In a way," she said, "it's easier than you might think. Doing a thing that some people consider difficult -- it's a lot easier when you don't have options. Or no longer have options.”
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