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.
... 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.