Book Review: What We Were Promised

What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan, is a novel detailing the life of one woman in particular.  Lina was born and raised in rural China, and promised to her husband in an arranged marriage.


After becoming successful in the United States, they move back to Shanghai for his work, and Lina’s life intersects once more with her past.  She is bored and disconnected, and she must reconcile her feelings about her life, in order to save her troubled marriage.  The book provides a parallel story line in Sunny, the Chinese domestic who works for them in their luxury high-rise apartment.

The story bounces between past and present, and Lina and Sunny’s lives, telling the tales of their pasts and choices, and how they have ended up in the present.  It hints at the differences between poverty and privilege, as well as the fact that there is usually a hidden story under the surface.

The flaw of the novel for me was that the characters seemed shallow and one-sided, with the author never fully developing them.  Lina’s character seemed spoiled and ungrateful throughout much of the book, but I think the author could have built more empathy for her had she built out the hardships Lina had experienced.

It is an interesting story, and a quick read, but I was hoping for something a bit more thought provoking than what it was.

2 stars.

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