World and Town

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What to expect

Sixty-eight-year-old Hattie Kong, descendant of Confucius, daughter of an American missionary, has lived to see both her husband and her best friend die back-to-back in a single year: “It was like having twins…She got to book the same church with the same pianist for both funerals and did think she should have gotten some sort of twofer from the crematorium.”

But two years later, it’s time for Hattie to start over. She moves to a small New England town where she is soon joined by a Cambodian American family and an ex-lover—now a retired neuroscientist—all of them looking for their own new lives.

What Hattie makes of this situation and of the changing town of Riverlake—challenged as it is, in 2001, by fundamentalist Christians, struggling family farms, and unexpected immigrants—lies at the center of a novel that asks deep and absorbing questions about religion, home, and what “worlds” we make of the world.

Moving, humorous, and broad-ranging, World and Town is rich in character and brilliantly evocative of its time and place. This is a masterful novel from one of our most admired writers.

Critics Review

  • “Jen unwinds another expansive story of identity and acceptance, deploying voices that are as haunting and revealing as they are original…Jen’s prose is unique, dense, and enthralling, and her characters are marvels of authenticity.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • “Sharply funny and wisely compassionate, Jen’s richly stippled novel slyly questions every assumption about existence and meaning even as it celebrates generosity, friendship, and love.”

    Booklist (starred review)
  • “One of Jen’s greatest strengths is her fluid point of view, which she employs beautifully here, alternating perspectives among Hattie, Sophy, and a local man named Everett, whose wife is Sophy’s sponsor at the Heritage Bible Church. Nothing is fixed for these unsettled characters, who keep trying to build new lives in a bewildering world, and whose victories, when they come, bring not rapture but ‘a defining grace, bittersweet and hard-won.’”

    New York Times Book Review
  • “Jen beautifully captures the pain of feeling invisible in a place where your every move is being watched, a place ‘where you can talk and talk and still have nobody hear.’”

    New Yorker
  • “Jen’s sensitivity and charming humor should vault this to the top of book groups’ must-reads.”

    Library Journal
  • “In this thick, satisfying sprawl of a read…Jen gracefully introduces some of the great issues of our time.”

    Entertainment Weekly

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