A story of migrations literal and emotional—spanning time, space, and class in China and America—this debut novel explores the aftermath of unfulfilled dreams as well as an immigrant story that grapples with our tenuous connections to memory, history, and self.
...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.
... [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.