The Border of Paradise
Esmé Weijun Wang
An epic tale of one iconoclastic family's inheritance of madness — and money — in Brooklyn, Taiwan, and Northern California
In booming postwar Brooklyn, the Nowak Piano Company is an American success story. There is just one problem: the Nowak’s only son, David. A handsome kid and shy like his mother, David struggles with neuroses. If not for his only friend, Marianne, David’s life would be intolerable. When David inherits the piano company at just 18 and Marianne breaks things off, David sells the company and travels around the world. In Taiwan, his life changes when he meets the daughter of a local madame — the sharp-tongued, intelligent Daisy. Returning to the United States, the couple (and newborn son) buy an isolated country house in Northern California’s Polk Valley. As David's health deteriorates, he has a brief affair with Marianne, producing a daughter.
It’s Daisy's solution for the future of her two children, inspired by the old Chinese tradition of raising girls as sisterly wives for adoptive brothers, that exposes Daisy’s traumatic life, and the terrible inheritance her children must receive. Framed by two suicide attempts, The Border of Paradise is told from multiple perspectives, culminating in heartrending fashion as the young heirs to the Nowak fortune confront their past and their isolation.
Praise for The Border of Paradise
"THE BORDER OF PARADISE is a magnificent achievement – an exhortation for human tenderness and individual dignity in the most difficult of circumstances. Wang explores identity and family with a sense of drama that borders on gothic, without ever sacrificing the psychological texture that connects us to her characters."
—Adrienne Celt, author of THE DAUGHTERS
"A stunning meditation on the meaning of marriage, the limits of language, and the inescapable solitude of the mind. Esme Weijun Wang’s writing is spellbinding; her characters are hauntingly alive."
—Jennifer DuBois, author of CARTWHEEL
"Esme Weijun Wang's relentlessly moving debut THE BORDER OF PARADISE is a profound epic of potent darkness with all sorts of unexpected light. The story of the Nowak family contains notes of Lidia Yuknavitch, Christine Schutt, and Kevin Wilson, and yet remains unlike anything I've ever read. Trauma is rendered gorgeously, from every angle, within every possibility. Whether tackling New York, California, or Taiwan, Wang performs this novel with glorious courage, ambition, passion, and style."
—Porochista Khakpour, author of SONS & OTHER FLAMMABLE OBJECTS and THE LAST ILLUSION
"THE BORDER OF PARADISE is shaped by darkness and the kind of delicious story that makes for missed train stops and bedtimes, keeping a reader up late for just one more page of dynamic character-bouncing perspective (an idea which came to Wang in dreams). It is the author’s stunning introduction to the literary world."
—Alli Maloney, The New York Times
"Wang's prose is beautiful and restrained, and her generous, precise characterization makes every perspective feel organic and utterly real in the face of increasingly theatrical circumstances. The result — the story of an American family stretched and manipulated into impossible shapes — is an extraordinary literary and gothic novel of the highest order."
—Carmen Maria Machado, NPR
"Gothic in tone, epic in ambition, and creepy in spades."