ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.



August 2019



Severance by Ling Ma

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those who enjoy novels that move around in time. Those who liked Station Eleven.

In a nutshell:
The fever has taken over the world. Candace has survived it, and is now traveling with other survivors. Through chapters alternating in the past and present, we learn what Candace’s life (and the life of her immigrant parents) was like, and is like now.

Worth quoting:
“It made me wistful for the illusion of New York more than for its actuality, after having lived there for five years.”

Why I chose it:
I saw it in a few book stores and kept picking it up. Finally had to go for it.

This is a situation where I don’t want to give away too much, because I think the less you know, the more interesting the book is. I accidentally glanced at just a bit of one Cannonballer’s review in my feed and while they didn’t spoil anything, I think something they mentioned did take away from my reading of it because I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I suggest that, if you’re at all interested in reading this book, you just pick it up and read it.

The book looks at so many big ideas — capitalism, immigration, survivalism, urban living — but also smaller, relatable intimacies, such as competition at work, relationships (romantic, platonic, familial), daily life choices. Her boyfriend Jonathan starts out as a mildly interesting character, but I found Candace’s evolution of her view of him to be relatable and more interesting that Jonathan himself.

I like the style of going back and forth in time – I’m not sure this book would be as compelling were it told in a straightforward manner. But at the same time, author Ma is a talented writer, able to create a vivid picture without flowery or overly-descriptive language. I have a strong idea of what the manufacturing plant in China looks like, the hotel, Candace’s New York apartments, her office. I did live in New York for many years, so I think that may have increased my enjoyment of the book a bit, but if it were set in another major city I’m sure I would have devoured it all the same (in any case, I started this book on a Wednesday and finished it Thursday evening, and worked both of those days).

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Pass to a Friend. One has already called dibs, in fact.

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