...spectacular and emotionally polyphonic ... In a particularly brilliant act of alchemy, the novel finds new ways to dissect the geopolitical significance of China’s explosive 1980s through the complicated nature of the story’s relationships ... Su Lan is a difficult and singular character of immense depth. What makes Little Gods extraordinary is the way it examines not only the trajectory of its characters’ lives but also their emotional motivations ... an awesome achievement.
Reminiscent of Ferrante, too, are Jin’s protagonist’s larger-than-life talent, drive and perversity. In her intelligence, vulnerability, volatility, desperation, narcissism and self-destructiveness, Su Lan — despite her voicelessness — is as complex a protagonist as any I can recall. She is also portrayed with exquisite irony ... I did wish Jin’s narrative had been better signposted. The oscillating viewpoints (including an early focus on the hospital nurse, who turns out to be less important than this implies) can be disorienting, especially when accompanied by unexplained shifts in time and place ... despite the novel’s structural flaws, Liya’s duel with her mother nonetheless shines.
... bold, moving ... In the typical rubric of the immigrant narrative, [Jin] notes, 'the immigrant doesn’t fully exist until the moment of arrival.' This reality — the excising of the 'first self,' which Little Gods deliberately spotlights with heartbreaking clarity, or a superficial flattening of the full life before — is one that tends to underpin our perceptions of immigrant households and perhaps every corner of San Francisco’s prominent yet insular Chinese community. And yet, within these enclaves themselves, the complicated truths of migration are things that can at least be implicitly understood together ... It is simply the existence and interrogation of the hidden life, this immigrant tale turned inside out, that gives the novel its profound power.
... [an] ambitious, formally complex debut ... Jin sometimes flags her themes with undue insistence ... there are...moments in the novel when a character seems to speak more as the author’s mouthpiece than from credible personal motives. Nonetheless, Little Gods gains plausibility and texture as it progresses ... Discontinuous but complementary, the three monologues accumulate to paint a powerful, poignant portrait of a woman crippled by her fear of looking back ... Liya’s voice is less compelling, muffled by some heavy plot lifting as she seeks the father whose identity has already been revealed to readers. It doesn’t help that Jin pulls back abruptly to a third-person narrative for the enigmatic, too-brief completion of Liya’s odyssey. Sketchy and muddled though this section is, there’s a haunting poetry to Jin’s final images ... Little Gods marks a bold first step for a novelist who promises to give us even finer work in the future.
...ambitious...3/4 stars ... Jin’s choice to keep Su Lan’s own voice out of the story makes structural sense. By refracting her through those who knew her, but not fully, we feel how tragically unknowable she was ... Little Gods is built from familiar tropes: love amid violence, lost parents, secrets held by those closest to us. But Jin brings a fresh imagination to them.
... a haunting story ... the book seems more of an examination of the hope and opportunity in the 1980s before Tiananmen, and the rise of the generational gaps in rural families during this time ... Besides the complex human relationships, the story includes other parts that lack neat conclusions. The subject of physics—especially the concepts of time and motion—gives the reader much to think about, even after the story concludes.
Meng Jin's Little Gods is one of the most complex character studies I've ever read ... Little Gods is a novel about performing the self, filtered through academia, abandonment, and migration. This is a smart and emotionally devastating novel. It is also a gritty narrative that reveals the inner universe of two women in detail ... Little Gods is a novel about the ways we adapt to our surroundings as we move through our own stories. It explores the inescapable impact of the past on the present and shows that running from what we dislike often pushes us into more of the same.
Su Lan the central character of Jin’s debut novel, Little Gods, is not a likable person by any conventional standard ... Jin offers insights into the debate surrounding literary mystery/myth. And, Little Gods retains an element of mystery to its very end, without simply feeding readers a pleasing political message ... What I admire most about Little Gods is the intersection of Yongzong’s personal failures and China’s epochal political event ... Besides the brilliant and beautiful depiction of the myth/mystery in the eyes of egocentric beings, Meng Jin exhibits a rare appreciation of the depth of humanity ... Little Gods is lyrical, stunning, full of wisdom, and the fruit of Jin’s pursuit of truth
With precocious dexterity, Jin—Chinese-born, Harvard-educated, Brooklyn-based—adroitly privileges her readers with a haunting omniscience she denies her characters, giving voice to Liya’s first caregiver and the runaway stranger whose genes are Liya’s dubious legacy. Skillfully revealed, exquisitely rendered, Jin’s first novel undoubtedly presages future success.
... [a] stunning debut ... Artfully composed and emotionally searing, Jin’s debut about lost girls, bottomless ambition, and the myriad ways family members can hurt and betray one another is gripping from beginning to end. This is a beautiful, intensely moving debut.
Not all the plot contrivances make sense, but Su Lan is a fascinating character of a type rarely seen in fiction, an ambitious woman whose intellect and drive allow her to envision changing the very nature of time ... While the love triangle is interesting, perhaps most compelling is the story of one woman's single-minded pursuit of her ambition.