The Border of Paradise is a novel about the trauma inflicted upon us and that we in turn inflict on others, a ;saga chronicling the lives of a neurotic Polish American man who comes to marry a beautiful Taiwanese woman. We learn this man is about to kill himself on the first page, and from there their haunting histories unfold — bridled with abuse, mental illness, and lost love. Esme Weijun Wang is a master at weaving these different viewpoints across the gaps of language and culture, laying bare the corrosiveness of racism and the dark legacies it leaves behind for their children. Recommended By Cosima C., Powells.com
While I was reading it and for days after I finished, I dreamt about this book. Wang's debut novel checks off a lot of boxes for me: it's a family saga, it's a sympathetic and realistic rendering of mental illness, and it's both beautifully written and deeply disturbing. Wang's characters follow their internal compasses down paths that seem to be somehow unexpected and preordained all at the same time, and they come to devastating ends. The Border of Paradise absolutely captivated me; I can't recommend it highly enough. Recommended By Ashleigh B., Powells.com
Synopses & 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’s life would be intolerable. When David inherits the piano company at just 18 and Marianne breaks things off, David sells the company and travels around the world. In Taiwan, his life changes when he meets the daughter of a local madame — the sharp-tongued, intelligent Daisy. Returning to the United States, the couple (and newborn son) buy an isolated country house in Northern California’s Polk Valley. As David's health deteriorates, he has a brief affair with Marianne, producing a daughter.
It’s Daisy's solution for the future of her two children, inspired by the old Chinese tradition of raising girls as sisterly wives for adoptive brothers, that exposes Daisy’s traumatic life, and the terrible inheritance her children must receive. Framed by two suicide attempts, The Border of Paradise is told from multiple perspectives, culminating in heartrending fashion as the young heirs to the Nowak fortune confront their past and their isolation.
"Wang's prose is beautiful and restrained, and her generous, precise characterization makes every perspective feel organic and utterly real in the face of increasingly theatrical circumstances. The result — the story of an American family stretched and manipulated into impossible shapes — is an extraordinary literary and gothic novel of the highest order." Carmen Maria Machado, NPR
"The Border of Paradise is shaped by darkness and the kind of delicious story that makes for missed train stops and bedtimes, keeping a reader up late for just one more page of dynamic character-bouncing perspective (an idea which came to Wang in dreams). It is the author’s stunning introduction to the literary world." Alli Maloney, The New York Times
"A stunning meditation on the meaning of marriage, the limits of language, and the inescapable solitude of the mind. Esme Weijun Wang’s writing is spellbinding; her characters are hauntingly alive." Jennifer DuBois, author of Cartwheel
"The Border of Paradise is a magnificent achievement – an exhortation for human tenderness and individual dignity in the most difficult of circumstances. Wang explores identity and family with a sense of drama that borders on gothic, without ever sacrificing the psychological texture that connects us to her characters." Adrienne Celt, author of The Daughters
A remarkable multigenerational novel, The Border of Paradise
transports readers into the world of an iconoclastic midcentury family.
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's life would be intolerable. When David inherits the piano company at just 18 and Marianne breaks things off, David sells the company and travels around the world. In Taiwan, his life changes when he meets the daughter of a local madame -- beautiful, sharp-tongued Daisy. Returning to the United States, the couple (and newborn son) buy an isolated country house in Northern California's Polk Valley.
As David's mental health deteriorates, he has a brief affair with Marianne, producing a daughter. When Marianne appears at their doorstep, the couple's fateful decision to take the child as their own determines a tragic course of events for the entire family. Told from multiple perspectives, The Border of Paradise culminates in heartrending fashion, as the young heirs to the Nowak fortune must confront their past and the tragic reality of their future.
About the Author
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. She lives in San Francisco.