Searching for Sylvie Lee

After a childhood split between the Netherlands and New York City's Chinatown, Sylvie Lee doesn't feel she fits in anywhere. Striking and intelligent, she becomes a hard-driving high achiever, earning top grades at Princeton and building a high-powered consulting career. Her younger sister, Amy, big-hearted but shy, idolizes Sylvie, and Sylvie becomes Amy's champion and protector. But when Sylvie returns to Amsterdam to visit her dying grandmother and then disappears, the younger sister flies across the ocean to find her--or, failing that, to unearth some answers.

In Searching for Sylvie Lee, Jean Kwok returns to some of the themes she has explored in her previous novels, Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown. Both sisters struggle to balance the weight of their elders' history and traditions with their own dreams (and realities) of building lives in the United States. Amy and Sylvie have never been to China, and their mother has never learned English; the sisters feel the pull of their ancestral culture and also resent the ways it marks them as different.

Kwok tells her story in three voices: Sylvie's, Amy's and the voice of their mother, known simply as "Ma." Each woman sees her own relationships and interactions with the others in an entirely different light, making this a compelling story of how the unsaid can powerfully shape families and lives. Sharply observed, with a plot as unpredictable as its moody Dutch landscape, Kwok's novel is a powerful meditation on loss, identity and belonging. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

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