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Paper Names: Book summary and reviews of Paper Names by Susie Luo

Paper Names

A Novel

by Susie Luo

Paper Names by Susie Luo X
Paper Names by Susie Luo
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  • Published May 2023
    288 pages
    Genre: Literary Fiction

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About this book

Book Summary

An unexpected act of violence brings together a Chinese-American family and a wealthy white lawyer in this propulsive and sweeping story of family, identity and the American experience—for fans of Jean Kwok, Mary Beth Keane and Naima Coster.

Set in New York and China over three decades, Paper Names explores what it means to be American from three different perspectives. There's Tony, a Chinese-born engineer turned Manhattan doorman, who immigrated to the United States to give his family a better life. His daughter, Tammy, who we meet at age nine and follow through adulthood, grapples with the expectations of a first generation American and her own personal desires. Finally, there's Oliver, a handsome white lawyer with a dark family secret and who lives in the building where Tony works. A violent attack causes their lives to intertwine in ways that will change them forever.  

Taut, panoramic and powerful, debut novelist Susie Luo's Paper Names is an unforgettable story about the long shadows of our parents, the ripple effect of our decisions and the ways in which our love transcends difference.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"An ambitious debut novel that follows a Chinese immigrant, his daughter, and a White lawyer over three decades...An entertaining and touching debut from a new voice in Chinese American literature." —Kirkus Reviews

"Paper Names is a sharp and honest look at family, immigration, and all that we trade away to find ourselves—but it is also a literary page-turner that is as unsettling as it is full of grace. Susie Luo's debut is unblinking, nimble, and written with the kind of clarity one expects from a seasoned author. The word stunning is not hyperbole here." —Brian Castleberry, award-winning author of Nine Shiny Objects

"Paper Names is one of the most compelling evocations of the American dream I've ever read, an unwaveringly honest accounting of the costs of achieving that dream. Here you're in the hands of a supremely gifted storyteller who's unwinding a tale that is by turns tragic and redemptive, and always engrossing. I found the book impossible to put down, as much for its propulsive narrative as for its carefully observed portrait of the imperfect nature of love, and the fraught, untamable state of being human." —Jack Livings, award-winning author of The Blizzard Party

"Paper Names has the rare one-two punch of plot twists and sharp, absorbing prose. Luo portrays the ache of the impossible distance between parents and children, the inevitable corruption caused by wealth and privilege, the hopes, fears, and ambitions of a father navigating life in a new country, and the life-defining decisions of woman balancing her own success with sudden tragedy and long-buried truth, all while infusing each scene with a sense of deep love and longing." —Katie Runde, author of The Shore

"Empathetic, propulsive, and timely, Luo's confident plotting shines in this story of three Americans attempting to redefine themselves in a changing country as their pasts and futures collide. A magnificent debut." —J. Ryan Stradal, New York Times bestselling author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest  

"A stunningly accomplished debut about two very different families, the struggling Zhangs and the wealthy powerful Wrights, both on a collision course with the American Dream and with one another, passing down their legacies and secrets through the generations. Luo has crafted an absolutely gorgeous novel about the ripples of parental expectations, the force of memory, and the fierceness of love. So alive and real, you don't merely read this wondrous novel as much as you get to live it." —Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of With or Without You  

"With a keen eye for detail, a strong sense of pacing, and a deep understanding of human nature, Susie Luo crafts a moving portrait of two families whose fates intertwine. Deftly moving back and forth in time, she explores race, class, assimilation, loyalty, betrayal and ambition. Paper Names is a sensitive and timely novel." —Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan Train

"This book will forever change the way readers think about the American Dream. I could not put it down, and I thought about it for weeks after finishing it. Immigrants will see themselves reflected all too well in these searing pages of hope and heartache. Susie Luo's Paper Names is an unforgettable book from a rare talent." —Qian Julie Wang, New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Country

"Susie Luo's spectacular debut Paper Names is the story of the Zhang family, Chinese immigrants struggling to achieve the American dream and the Wright family, gluttons of privilege intent to bury their scandalous past. Explosive and riveting, the story whipstitches in and out of time like a golden needle. When 9-year-old Tianfei becomes Tammy, she becomes a character in her new American life in a world she cannot control. Twenty years on, identity, love, ambition and grief become the threads of Tammy's story as she discovers who she is on her own terms. Brilliant." —Adriana Trigiani, New York Times bestselling author of The Good Left Undone

This information about Paper Names was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Sonia F. (Freehold, NJ)

An immigrant experience
We are our stories. And when it comes to an immigrant story, we all have one to tell. This compelling story had me hooked from the first sentence. Spoiler alert- I am a sucker for a good immigrant story.
Set in the big Apple- New York and China , Susie Luo debut novel explains what it means to be other, what it means to be stereotyped because of how you look, what it means to fit in, what it means to be a first generation American and having to appease an old school Chinese father in America who wants to do everything in his power to make you have a better life, to make you attain that elusive American dream.
Told from three perspectives with engaging rounded characters; Tony, Chinese born engineer who is now a doorman in Manhattan, his daughter Tammy who wishes he was more American and then there is Oliver, white , handsome and dark family secrets. Their lives collide and intertwine like one would not imagine and the effects are devastating.
"But for all his attempts to control me, what he also did was create a person who was capable of making hard decisions of breaking the cage itself".
" I had not realized until his death that he had also caged me with his dreams". Ah!! The long shadows of parents and their expectations when when is confronted with cultural bonds and duties. A compelling evocative read that you recognize yourself or someone you know on these pages. I unequivocally recommend this novel. It will stay with me forever. I wonder what Tammy is up to now. I wonder if she found a space to call home.

Sandra O. (Alexandria, VA)

Better than Number One
Paper Names is a winner of a novel! It begins slowly and builds to a full crescendo!

The characters are perfectly drawn and though the story begins in New York about an immigrant family from China, it weaves back and forth though the family's lifetime. I personally felt each high and low as the characters moved through their lives. It also involves an American lawyer who helps them in many ways but has his own dark secret. The story will remain with you. Kudos to the author!

Judy G. Greenbrae, CA.

Paper Names
Paper Names is a novel that asks--in engaging, absorbing and entertaining ways--big questions. Who are we and what shapes us? Is it our family heritage, or is it the world we move through, be it familiar or new? Are we the title of our jobs? What is justice? This may make the novel sound like heavy lifting, but it is anything but. Susie Luo writes so gracefully that it is surprising to learn this is her first novel.
The story is told through three points of view. Tony Zhang, once an engineer in China who sought a better life for his family, is now a doorman in New York. His daughter Tammy, whom we follow from age nine to adulthood, deals with her family's old world ways and her own new world hopes. The third story is Oliver Wright's. He's a charming lawyer with everything going for him except a dark family secret. A vicious street crime brings all three people and stories together.
There are no saints or true villains in these pages, only complicated, real people trying to find their way and sometimes tripping up.
I heartily recommend this book and will definitely read whatever Susie Luo decides to write next.

Susan M. (New Holland, PA)

Paper Names
Paper Names is an exceptionally well written novel that held my interest throughout. The story revolves around a Chinese immigrant family who left their home and jobs in China in hopes of a better life in the US. However Tony, the father sacrifices his good job as an engineer to serve as a doorman for an upscale hotel. He is declared a hero when he saves a resident from a violent attack.

The reader also follows his daughter, Tammy from the age of 9 until her graduation from Harvard and beyond. A lawyer named Oliver is another key figure in the story. The characters are well drawn and there's a surprise ending that I didn't see coming.

I would recommend this book to any reader who might enjoy an interesting fictional account of what immigrants to this country experience.

Diane S. (El Paso, TX)

Beautifully Written Story
"Paper Names" is a beautifully written story that focuses on three characters: Tony, an immigrant from China; his daughter, Tammy, a first-generation American; and Oliver, an American attorney, who are thrown together as a result of a random act of violence. The story is told from the three characters' perspectives and highlights various years in their lives. There is a lot going on: immigrants' struggles, family relationships, family dysfunction, coming of age, family secrets, and ultimately, what love really means. The characters' stories are so compelling that I found myself reading well into the night. Because it would generate a lively discussion, "Paper Names" would be an excellent choice for a book club.

Laurie F. (Brookline, MA)

A Fabulous Debut Novel
A wonderful story of a Chinese family's journey as immigrants to America. We follow Tony, Kim, and their daughter Tammy (their Americanized names of course) through the difficulties of being a professional in your home country and then having to start from scratch in America assuming you eventually reach your dreams. This novel reveals through hard work, unique relationships, and determination you can eventually get there - though there are consequences. I recommend you read this book to find out!

...15 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Susie Luo

Susie Luo is a writer based in New York. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell Law School. She wrote at night while working as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs. Paper Names is her first book.

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