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What We Were Promised

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  4,271 ratings  ·  508 reviews
After years of chasing the American dream, the Zhen family has moved back to China. Settling into a luxurious serviced apartment in Shanghai, Wei, Lina, and their daughter, Karen, join an elite community of Chinese-born, Western-educated professionals who have returned to a radically transformed city.

One morning, in the eighth tower of Lanson Suites, Lina discovers that a
Hardcover, 1st edition, 324 pages
Published July 10th 2018 by Little, Brown
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Average rating 3.56  · 
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 ·  4,271 ratings  ·  508 reviews

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Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
4 stars to What We Were Promised! ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

In What We Were Promised, the opening prologue includes the Zhen family leaving China to move to the United States. When life does not turn out the way they had expected financially, they return to Shanghai several years later.

Next, we meet Sunny, a housekeeper working in a lavish high rise apartment in Shanghai. Immediately apparent are the class differences as a result of her occupation, as well as her home background.

Years later, the Zhen family
Susanne  Strong
Jul 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
4.25 Stars* (rounded down)

Culture, Tradition and Family Ties. That is the story of “What We Were Promised.”

The transition of moving from the United States to Shanghai is a difficult one for the Zhen family. Lina was a School Teacher and is now a “Tai Tai,” a wealthy housewife, who need not work. Her husband Wei, is a successful Marketing Strategist. They live in Lanson Suites and have a Housekeeper and an AYI (a nanny/companion), named Sunny, - for their pre-teen daughter. Life is good. Then the
Meredith B.  (readingwithmere)
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.75 stars rounded up!

The Truth was more complicated than that. These objects of luxury they handled - how easy it was to fill them with meaning, to let them represent what you did or didn't have. How difficult, in fact, to know what you wanted in the first place.

This is the author's debut novel and it was beautifully written. This book dives into some deep rooted family issues that some cultures don't like to talk about.

As Children, Wei and Lina Zhen grew up in traditional Chinese-American
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
What We Were Promised is a story of the Zhen family who lives in Shanghai, but used to live in Pennsylvania. Wei is a successful marketing executive and his wife, Lina, is a “tai tai” - A wealthy housewife who does not need to work, though she was formerly a teacher. She meets the other tai tais for meals regularly at the luxury complex where they live. Wei and Lina also have a daughter, Karen, who is home for the summer but goes to school in the U.S. Sunny, one of the housekeepers at the comple ...more
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As a second generation Asian-American, so much of this novel resonated with me. I've already read it cover-to-cover twice now, and will come back to it again when I'm in the mood for some seriously good writing and story, probably accompanied by a glass of wine and dark chocolate.

This book tells the story of a family—Lina, Wei, their adolescent daughter, Karen—moving back to Shanghai for Wei’s marketing career after two decades of living in the U.S. One summer, Wei’s brother comes to visit and L
Dec 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a subtle, character driven novel about a family grappling with change after moving back to China from the US. It offers a glimpse of life in modern Shanghai of both the haves and have-nots. I like the way Tan reveals the many dimensions of her characters, including their flaws, and felt invested in Lina and her family.
da AL
Dec 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Intelligent, nuanced, and beautifully written story. How love, how perspective, how our experience changes everything. Audiobook performer Jennifer Lim does an outstanding job.
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: east-asia
I’m still reeling from the crushing disappointment that is this book.

This’s set in Shanghai so it’s only natural that it be on my radar since before it was even released and to say my expectations were sky high would be an understatement.
The incredibly generous two stars is for the China setting.

I’ll say it again, what a crushing disappointment.
For starters, IT WAS BORING. And I mean so utterly boring that I came close to DNFing it so many times. The author spends 4 to 5 pages describing thi
Donna Hines
Sep 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley, arc
Chasing the American Dream with plenty of culture, love, and family ties to keep them company.
The Zhen family (Wei, Lina, and Karen) have returned to a radically altered China.
An ivory bracelet Lina held dear has suddenly gone missing.
The entire family goes into various degrees of turmoil and must finally come to terms with their past.
Are we owed anything from our country and our family? What are we owed to ourselves?
It makes you examine how you arrived and perhaps how you must go back...
Thank y
Lolly K Dandeneau
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
via my blog:
'Fang Lijian’s perspective on love was different from any she’d heard before. Lina’s friends had watched too many American movies and to them, love was a classic car that would come roaring in from nowhere when the time was right, pick you up, and peel away. For all their warnings to her about relinquishing control marrying a man she didn’t know, they seemed to crave the kind of love that made you lose control.'

The Zhen family returns to China a
Stephanie Anze
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
3.5 stars rounded up.

After twenty years of living in America, the Zhen family move back to China (where they are originally from). Settling in the luxurious Lanson Suites in Shanghai, Wei, Lina and their teenage daughter Karen lead a very comfortable life. But no amount of expensive and fine amenities can make up for their uneasiness around each other, a fact that does not go unnoticed by Sunny (their ayi, private nanny) and that further exacerbates with the arrival of Qiang (Wei's brother). The
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
In What We Were Promised, a Chinese family has returned to China after living many years in America chasing the American dream. The husband Wei works long hours to give his family their newfound wealth and privilege, while the wife Lina lives a life of leisure and their daughter is sent off to school in America. When Wei's brother Qiang makes contact for the first time in 20 years, the hidden tensions and desires of the family members start to surface.

This book is lovely in so many ways that it'
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, contemporary
i liked it. interesting story on different levels - a western-educated chinese family going back to shanghai because the husband, wei, got a good job there (for an american company). the wife, lina, is at home in a luxurious residence with pool and maids, with nothing to do. the daughter, karen, us-born, is on vacation with her parents, so far going to school in the us, which she calles « home ».
the story starts with the announcement that wei‘s lost brother, whom they haven‘t seen for twenty ye
Lillian Li
Apr 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved Lucy Tan’s What We Were Promised. A true talent, debut author Tan writes prose that is compelling, evocative, funny, and at the same time manages to cut straight to the core of things. Most impressive of all is the authority and care with which Tan builds her world of nouveau-riche Shanghai, not only situating the complex, cosmopolitan city in the equally complex history of China and the Cultural Revolution, but allowing this same history to shape and haunt her novel (as fully and inevit ...more
I can't tell whether I thought this was unremarkable and rather boring just because I've already read 16* books like it this year or if it really wouldn't stand out regardless. Normally I'd dismiss it as a so-so book: well-enough written and plotted to be worth reading if it sounds like your thing, definitely not a can't-miss. Anne Bogel put it on her minimalist summer reading guide, though! I'd love to know why. Our reading tastes aren't perfectly matched, so her favorite books won't necessaril ...more
Aug 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
Well-written but entirely too slow-moving to hold my interest. Still bored after 100+ pages.
Oct 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Tl;dr: An unflinching, gorgeously writtenlook at expat life through the view of a Chinese couple returning to China and the woman they hire to watch their daughter. You can be at home and yet never be there like you want to be.

What We Were Promised is exquisitely written and traces the consequences of leaving home, and how whether it's for another country or simply another place means that the gulf between what you knew and who you've become can make you a stranger to what you thought you'd alwa
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
2.5 rounded down

Shanghai, 2010. China is preparing for the Shanghai Expo, and the city is the setting for Lucy Tan's debut novel.

We follow the Zhen family - Wei, Lina and their daughter Karen. The couple are originally from Suzhou (a city on the Grand Canal, an hour away from Shanghai), and have recently moved back to China after living in America for a number of years. Wei's high-powered job has brought them to Shanghai and they take residence in some fancy catered apartments in the "new" area
Carol (Reading Ladies)
2.5 stars. I’m underwhelmed. The first 90% of the story is build up and in the last 10% some important themes are introduced and the story ends. I thought what was brought up at the end was life changing, interesting, and important (avoiding spoilers here) and the story needed more time to explore the implications and how the disclosure will change their lives. As plot twists go, I thought it was fascinating and intriguing. The characters are not that likable but we do get a great look at Chines ...more
Afoma (Reading Middle Grade)
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thanks to Little Brown for a free ARC of this book!

WHAT WE WERE PROMISED is the enthralling story of Chinese family forced, by the return of a prodigal son, to address familial issues and unfulfilled promises.

I was struck by the poignancy of her deceptively simple style, barely ten pages in! This book is full of astute observations about life, love, and the choices we make for the people we love. Combined with compelling characters, the mystery of Qiang’s return and what it will mean for the Zh
Olga Gamer
Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
I very much enjoyed Lucy Tan's debut fiction novel, "What We Were Promised." The book focuses on one family and two people floating in their orbit. The Zhen family is comprised of Lina, Wei, and their daughter Karen, none of whom are close to each other, much less have active conversations. While Qiang is Wei's brother, they haven't heard from him since their wedding day nearly 20 years ago. The second person in their orbit is Sunny. When first introduced in the novel, Sunny was the housekeeper ...more
What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan is a thoughtful, slowly paced, look at love, family and immigration. Well-written with great characterizations, all-in-all a great read.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher for my honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Synopsis from NetGalley/Publisher
Set in modern Shanghai, a debut by a Chinese-American writer about a prodigal son whose unexpected return forces his newly wealthy family to confront painful secr
Aug 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Thank you Littlebrown for the free review copy

What we were promised was a book that was on my radar because the description sounded exactly like my type of story. An interesting setting, a family recently coming into a lot of money, a long lost brother returning after years of being estranged, and lingering feelings left over after an arranged marriage. The lovely @annebogel helped put this book at the top of my list by adding it to her summer reading guide.

This book was such a fascinating look
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What We Were Promised was not what I expected and I completely loved it!

This book blends together the stories of an expat family (wife Lina, husband Wei, daughter Karen) recently returned to Shanghai, their rural-born housekeeper Sunny finding her footing in the modern city, and a long-lost and thought-to-be-dead brother Qiang. I was enthralled by the observations of unrequited love, struggling with your identiy, and feeling out of place in both another country and your own upon your return. Tan
There has been so much hype about this up and coming author. I was disappointed. The story plodded along. None of the characters were particularly likeable. The author took too long to develop the characters but little time on telling the story and bringing it to a conclusion. Just when she finally started telling the story, the book ended. This didn’t read like book one of a series, but if it turns out that is the case, I won’t bother with book two.
Jan 02, 2021 rated it liked it
I think this book was not was I was expecting...but in a bad way. I really liked the concept and the blurb — it sounded so interesting, but it followed a different path than was really talked about in those. It wasn't bad, but it was just not what I was expected and the story I expected would've been much more interesting in my opinion.

Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
In the first chapter of this book, I learn a surprising fact about China – it has one standard time zone, despite it spanning five geographical time zones! How confusing is that?

Luckily this book, despite its interweaving stories of an expat family, a long-lost brother, and a housekeeping staff-turned-ayi, isn’t confusing at all.

Sunny is from rural China. She works as a maid cleaning rooms and serviced apartments at a hotel in Shanghai. Her name isn’t Sunny of course – it’s just a name tag she p
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wow. Quite a writing feat!

I enjoyed this book and appreciated the complexity of the story. This book has insightful and tender portrayals which made the characters and their stories compelling. I was concerned initially about reading about the super-rich; generally there seems to be very little that's redeeming in doing so. However, the characters here are well rounded and nuanced; the housecleaner/ayi and members of the rich family were depicted in such a way that one was not overshadowed or g
Linda Hutchinson
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ If you read my reviews, you know that I like to keep them succinct. This is the first book in a long time that is hard to describe in a limited number of words. A character drive novel set in modern day Shanghai revolves around four people, Wei (the wealthy father and family provider), Lina (married to Wei and unfulfilled), Qiang (Wei’s bad boy brother), and Sunny (the maid turned nanny for the family). Post-revolutionary China is not the country that its revolutionary citizens expect ...more
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've been fascinated with Chinese culture ever since I was in college and went on Semester at Sea my junior year. I love everything about it including the rich history and struggles so I was excited to read this novel. At first I had trouble getting into it though as there is so much backstory given to bring the reader up to speed with Lina and her family's present. But then as present and past are interwoven, it becomes clearer and more engaging as we have the Zhen family and Sunny as their hou ...more
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Around the Year i...: What We Were Promised, by Lucy Tan 1 11 Feb 12, 2019 10:40AM  

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Lucy Tan is the author of What We Were Promised, which was long listed for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and named a Best Book of 2018 by The Washington Post, Refinery 29, and Amazon. Lucy received her M.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was awarded the 2016 August Derleth Prize and currently serves as the James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow. Her work is published o ...more

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