Synopses & Reviews
A big, rewarding novel about art, politics, family, terrorism, courage, and happiness.
Promise Whittaker, the diminutive but decisive acting director of the National Museum of Asian Art, is pregnant again--and that's just the beginning of her difficulties. Her mentor, the previous director, suddenly walked away from his job with no explanation, and now is on a dig somewhere in the Taklamakan desert. Her favorite curator has dropped their newest treasure, a bowl once owned by Thomas Jefferson, during the ceremony celebrating its acquisition. Another colleague, desperate for a son, has been embezzling from the museum to pay for her fertility treatments. And her far too handsome, far too elusive ancillary director is clearly up to no good.
Confronting challenge after challenge at work and at home, Promise is one of the most offbeat, original, winning characters in recent fiction. The Bowl Is Already Broken is all brains, all soul, and all heart--brimming with ideas, provocative, and deeply satisfying.
"Former Smithsonian editor Zuravleff's logy second novel (after The Frequency of Souls) tracks the mishaps and hard-won triumphs of the staff of a little museum that could, Washington, D.C.'s fictitious Museum of Asian Art. The novel opens on diminutive Promise Whittaker, the acting director, watching the museum's curator of Chinese ceramics drop a priceless Jingdezhen porcelain bowl at the prize acquisition's unveiling ceremony. Backtrack six months: Promise, a 43-year-old, Oklahoma-bred Rumi scholar and devoted wife and mother of two, is as floored by her promotion to interim director as she is by her unexpected pregnancy. Then director Joseph Lattimore, yearning to join a dig in the Taklamakan Desert, is threatened with the museum's extinction unless he brings in significant funding. Meanwhile, the curator of ancient Chinese art, Min Chen, embezzles museum funds to cover fertility treatments. As Joseph is eased into involuntary retirement, Promise injects some much needed energy into the museum's operations, all while maintaining an implausibly ideal home life. Though the plot ranges from shenanigans in D.C. to adventures in Central Asia, it bogs down in art historical detail where it should skip briskly. The shattered bowl becomes a metaphor of Buddhist wisdom, a lesson in patience and fortitude that one can also learn from tireless mothers like Promise." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"An authoritative novel about the museum world. . . . Her wit is equal to her wisdom."--The Seattle Times
"The Smithsonian Institute is many things, most of them quite wonderful . . . but to the best of my knowledge it has rarely if ever been the inspiration and setting for a novel. . . . Zuravleff is very smart, knows her subject and writes very well."--The Washington Post
"This multi-layered, erudite novel implies that it is only in the face of destruction, in the gathering of the shards, that meaning and humanity reside."--San Francisco Chronicle
"The Bowl Is Already Broken is pure delight. . . . All of us would enjoy this book."--The Roanoke Times
In this big, rewarding novel about art, politics, family, terrorism, courage, and happiness, Promise Whittaker, the diminutive but decisive acting director of the National Museum of Asian Art, is pregnant again--and that's just the beginning of her difficulties.
Promise Whittaker, the diminutive but decisive acting director of the Museum of Asian Art, is pregnant again--and that's just the beginning of her problems. Her mentor, the previous director, has suddenly quit, and is on a dig in China's Taklamakan Desert. Her favorite curator has dropped a priceless porcelain bowl, once owned by Thomas Jefferson, down the museum's steps. Another colleague has been embezzling from the museum to pay for her fertility treatments. And her far too handsome ancillary director is clearly up to no good. Promise's offbeat efforts to hold everything together make her a character who, in the words of the Newark Star-Ledger,
"you'll be falling in love with before you've turned the first page."
About the Author
Mary Kay Zuravleff
, a former editor of books and exhibition texts for the Smithsonian Institution, lives in Washington, D.C., with her family.