What had been the point of immigrating if not to enjoy American privilege?' the novel asks ... What We Were Promised is bustling with themes like these, ones that focus on the terrifyingly complex facets of what it means to be Chinese-American, an immigrant, and an expat. But Tan certainly has enough bandwidth to handle these heavy topics, sifting them through a single family with forlorn honesty and compassion ... The only time Tan’s extraordinary pacing fails is when the central conflict [is quickly resolved]. All it takes is the revelation of a single secret, wrapping up this sweeping family drama too neatly ... But it’s a small critique, because What We Were Promised glows through its intimate, skillful prose. Tan’s debut is a beautiful reckoning with the ever-changing definition of 'home' – what it means to have, lose and find family again.
Tan deftly explores evolving immigrant identity, layers of ex-pat privilege, tenacious gender disparity, family expectations and obligations ... Against a contemporary global backdrop, made empathic with a multigenerational family saga, embellished with timeless servant/master (and mistress) class conflict, Tan’s debut will be entertaining – and enlightening – savvy cosmopolitan readers throughout the summer and beyond.