Bird’s mom was a poet who read him fairy stories and taught him to work in the garden. Now she is gone, and Bird lives alone with his father, who says that Bird must now be called Noah. His father used to be an etymology professor, but now he shelves books in the university library so that they can share a dorm suite. Bird doesn’t understand why they had to move out of their house.
Margaret was pregnant with Bird shortly after The Crisis, when no one had work and people scrounged through abandoned stores and trash cans for food and clothing. Everything was better now, though, and everyone was patriotic. Very carefully patriotic. Margaret and her new husband were living in a rosy glow with a little house and a baby on the way, so they were able to ignore the posters in all of the shop windows about PACT, the Preserving American Culture and Traditions act. After all, it was targeted toward anti-American Asians, and they were good Americans, even though Margaret’s parents were from China.
Ng’s newest novel is frightening not just as dystopian fiction, but because so many of her details can be seen in our culture today. Having survived a slow-rolling crisis not long ago, we can see how easy it would be for a desperate nation to accept unthinkable levels of authoritarian government, and once that regime is in place, how difficult it would be to loosen its grip on power. We can all flatter ourselves that we would resist tyranny to the death until the authorities play their ultimate card: they will take away your children. Everyone in Ng’s world will give up any of their rights if they can recover their missing hearts.
I almost hesitated to read this novel because I worried that it could not live up to Little Fires Everywhere, which I loved and reviewed here. Our Missing Hearts is every bit as good, although completely different. It doesn’t hurt that it is a love letter to librarians, who play a heroic role throughout. The audiobook is read by Lucy Liu, whose calm voice is often filled with emotion whether she reads from Bird’s or Margaret’s perspective. Celeste Ng reads the foreword and the epilogue.
A dystopian novel that slowly reveals its shocking details, Our Missing Hearts packs an emotional punch and will leave you shaken. Highly recommended.
Disclaimer: I listened to an audiobook of this novel. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.