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Bury What We Cannot Take

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  1,379 ratings  ·  218 reviews
The day nine-year-old San San and her twelve-year-old brother, Ah Liam, discover their grandmother taking a hammer to a framed portrait of Chairman Mao is the day that forever changes their lives. To prove his loyalty to the Party, Ah Liam reports his grandmother to the authorities. But his belief in doing the right thing sets in motion a terrible chain of events.

Now they
Kindle Edition, 275 pages
Published March 20th 2018 by Little A
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Average rating 3.80  · 
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 ·  1,379 ratings  ·  218 reviews

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Mar 30, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book painted a painful picture of communism in China when the borders closed and the awful choices a family might have to make to get out of there. Did I like it? It was decent but I appreciat the story and intention of the author behind it.
Diane S ☔
3.5 Twelve year old, Ah Liam is a staunch supporter of the cultural revolution and of Chairman Mao. So much so that he reports his own grandmother for taking a hammer to the picture in their house, the picture every house must have, of their beloved Chairman. Coming from a priviledged background, his family still living in their Villa, albeit on only one floor, but still maintaining a few servents, he already has much to overcome. This act though will start a crushing tide of circumstances, one ...more
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 sep

Such potential ruined by this juvenile, utterly stupid and unrealistic ending. STUPID!
I’m so furious.
Natalia Sylvester
This was a beautifully immersive story and one I know I’ll be thinking about for a long time. Using multiple POVs, Kirstin Chen depicts a family torn apart by unthinkable circumstances. The way she reveals each character’s truths and struggles and triumphs and losses is masterful, elevating the story past the usual question of “what would I do?” to arrive at a deeper, more complex understanding: that there are moments in life which rob us of choice, leaving us in their wake trying to somehow get ...more
Stephanie Anze
Jul 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"What if a mistake was too grave to live with? What if the guilt wormed its way deep into the flesh and grew more and more potent, devouring tissue and fat and skin, until one day, you looked down and your whole self had been ravaged and nothing remained?"

When nine-year-old San San and twelve-year-old Ah Liam find that their grandma has taken a hammer against the portrait of Chairman Mao, they agree to remain silent. However, in an effort to please the party, Ah Liam reports his grandma. The fam
Ingrid Contreras
In Bury What We Cannot Take, a misjudged moment of anger uproots a family. The very beginning of the novel finds twelve-year-old Ah-Liam and nine-year-old San San returning home from school to discover their grandmother kneeling before the family altar and crying, her skirt partially hiding a hammer. Overlooking the room is a portrait of Chairman Mao “smiling benevolently at all who gazed upon him, oblivious to the spiderweb of cracks that scarred him.”

As recently as 2015, an individual defacing
Afoma (Reading Middle Grade)
This is one of those books whose titles grabbed me before anything else. I'm pleased to report that the rest of the book is just as evocative as that title. In Maoist China, twelve year old Ah Liam reports his grandmother for vandalizing a portrait of Chairman Mao and so starts a terrible chain of events. The family attempts to flee China, but in a heartbreaking plot twist, they are can only take one child. The novel follows the consequences of the devastating choice, Seok Koon (the mother) make ...more
lucky little cat
Dec 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Readers who found The Joy Luck Club too challenging
Recommended to lucky little cat by: The Millions Most Anticipated 2018 List
Heartfelt but slight tale of a family's hardships during the early days of China's Cultural Revolution.

Here, have a proverb

One-dimensional characters, overly familiar plot, and single-strand narrative conspire to make this read like YA lit for very young YAs or reluctant readers. Adult readers would be better served reading Nien Cheng's outstanding memoir Life and Death in Shanghai.
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
It’s a harrowing story, set in China in 1957: a young boy reports his grandmother to the authorities for taking a hammer to a portrait of Chairman Mao. Unfortunately, the extremely weak characterization meant that, a fifth of the way in, I didn’t care about anyone or anything that was happening. I shall not be continuing. Great cover, though.
Alice Lippart
Interesting setting and themes, and I loved reading about some of the characters, but loses itself a little bit towards the end. Good story, but nothing mind blowing.
I'll be reading Chen's debut Soy Sauce for Beginners before this (it's on the tbr soon pile!), but I really enjoyed this article about the author's concern on whether she had the right to write the story she was planning for this, her sophomore novel: Am I Chinese Enough to Tell This Story? - ...more
Aug 17, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I truly believe San San deserved better despite everyone's best intentions. ...more
Mary Eve
Bury What We Cannot Take

This is the first book I've read by Kristin Chen, thanks to Goodreads. What an emotional rollercoaster! Thought-provoking and tense, this story was reminiscent of Kay Bratt's The Palest Ink. I highly recommend both to those that enjoy historical fiction and Asian literature. I'll admit to feeling mildly depressed whilst reading, but it's that state of mind when one is immersed in a taut drama. This isn't a thriller. It's not a mystery series. However, it feels dark and fo
Aug 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This gripping story epitomizes family, culture, radicalism, and living with the consequences of our choices. I have not read many books about Communism and I became emotionally attached to the characters as the borders began to close and they had to leave San San behind. The family’s struggles were heart wrenching. I read Bury What We Cannot Take fervently, searching for consolation. We highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a cultural, political, all-around good read.

Sep 01, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The abrupt and implausible ending was messy, and it didn't match the rest of the book in its attempt to explain the happenings and move the story.

The writing is solid in terms of the mechanics of English, but it's plain and simplistic. The premise of the story is interesting but the storytelling is not compelling. I found the tone and affect to be staid or inauthentic. The characters took on a cartoonish or cardboard quality.

This is the second book of the author's that I've read. I don't think I
Mia Bonardi
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Mia by: Kirstin Chen
I had the opportunity to meet the author, Kirstin Chen, in a Publishing course I took at Northeastern University this past Spring. My professor went to graduate school with Chen and she was on her Bury What We Cannot Take book tour in Boston, so she stopped by our class. The major topics that she discussed about Bury What We Cannot Take were cultural representation, her inspiration, the cover art, and her blurbs.

If you have an interest in Chen’s struggle with cultural representation or her inspi

I appreciate the author’s intention in writing a story that’s set in Mao’s China because it shed some light in a part of history that I’m not familiar with. The stakes were high and I didn’t wanted the main character to be in any form of danger. However, the story and characters kinda fell a little flat for me and things kinda get a little repetitive as well. The ending of the story was too convenient for my liking. And I wish it shows its readers more about their lifestyle and culture, both
Carrie Carter
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks-own, giveaways
Set in Maoist China, a young boy, Ah Liam, reports that his grandmother took a hammer to Chairman Mao's portrait because he believes that is the right thing to do. This causes Ah Liam's family to flee to Hong Kong, where his father has been living, but the government will not provide enough visas which results in one of the children being left behind.

A harrowing tale about living with the consequences of our choices.
I absolutely devoured the first 60 percent of this tale set in 1957 communist China. A family seeking to flee an islet bordering China to Hong Kong after an unfortunate incident by one of the family members. Only three travel visas are allowed to insure that the family returns back to China.

The book was really captivating and the writing rather strong with mentions of communism, Chairman Mao, radicalism etc.... But, then this quite interesting, serious story morphed into a sort of mundane, lit
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think the book was good and played out some interesting scenarios - if and how and when to get your family out of your home country; family dynamics; sibling gender differences.

I totally rounded up the stars because it was refreshing to read a story that was not dependent upon frequent violence against women; or a book that alternates between different time periods; or writing that overly simplifies parenting as a perfect, loving, easy thing; or characters that never change or grow. I also ap
Ethel Rohan
Mar 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel's title, cover and prose are a class act. It's a gripping, heartfelt story set against the backdrop of Maoist China. The horrors of that communist regime are efficiently and effectively rendered and left me hurting at our capacity for cruelty and inhumanity. The wealth of details are vivid and visceral and brought both place and people alive. I wanted more in terms of character motivation and the novel's close, but am so glad to have read this fine work. ...more
Mar 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I look forward to reading more works by this author. Captivating story, well-written and interesting characters, but it did feel a bit too short and surface level. I feel like most of the time long books could be much shorter, but in this case I feel like this book should have been longer. Nonetheless I enjoyed the family dynamics, character arcs, and story of censorship and repression in Maoist China.
Heidi Perling
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I received this book and a Goodreads giveaway, but I would have loved it even if I had paid for it. It's a fascinating peek into life in China after the communist revolution. I'll be thinking about these characters for a long time... I really liked the way their emotions we're expressed through the descriptions of their physical movements. It was hard to put this one down, and I'm sure I'll revisit it someday. ...more
Great book! I received an ARC in advance of interviewing her for a student-run blog and really enjoyed the riveting story!
Rachel Rooney
After an impulsive action is reported by one of its members, a family is forced to flee early communist China for Hong Kong, leaving behind one of the children with the hope that the child will be able to follow behind soon.

I was entranced pretty much right away by this novel, and I wanted to know what happened. The decision about which child to take and which to leave is made in a second. It's startling how quickly. Anyway, I don't want to say too much. But I thought the novel was well-done. M
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
I liked the time frame and the topic, but it's what I call "short sentence" style of writing, which I don't care for. It felt cliched and the ending too pat. ...more
Maggie Boyd
Our immigration system is a hot topic in the news lately and it seems like personal accounts of success and failure by people who come to this great land are broadcast by our media on a regular basis. Bury What We Cannot Take is a story of immigration which moves the issue to a historical context; it’s a powerful, emotional tale of a family leaving mainland China after it has fallen to the communists and the pain of rebuilding their lives in Hong Kong.

Their family had once been large and wealthy
Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley, 2018
Provided only three permits/visas available given to a family of four, which family members would you bring with you to a place far from the rule of communism? Your choices are:

A. Your mother-in-law (grandmother of your children)
B. Your first child (son)
C. Your second child (daughter)

In the case of Soo Keon, mother and daughter-in-law, she chose Bee Kim and Ah Liam, believing that within a few days time, little San San would rejoin them on the other side. Unfortunately, the circumstances wouldn'
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Kirstin Chen's second novel, Bury What We Cannot Take (Little A, March 2018), was named a best book of the year by Entropy, Popsugar, and Book Bub, and a top pick of the season by Electric Literature, The Millions, The Rumpus, Harper’s Bazaar, and InStyle. She is also the author of Soy Sauce for Beginners. She has received awards from the Steinbeck Fellows Program, Sewanee, Hedgebrook, and the Nap ...more

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