Excerpt from All That's Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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All That's Left Unsaid

A Novel

by Tracey Lien

All That's Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien X
All That's Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2022, 304 pages

    Sep 26, 2023, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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Print Excerpt

Chapter 1

The circumstances of Denny Tran's death were so violent that most people in Cabramatta were too spooked to attend his funeral. At least that's how it seemed to his big sister, Ky. The funeral hall had been all but empty—her dead seventeen-year-old brother lay in the glossy closed casket; her parents and a few relatives kneeled next to a blown-up photo of a grinning Denny; and a Buddhist monk chanted prayers in exchange for lunch.

The only non-family in attendance were Denny's high school teachers, who huddled together big-eyed and confused by the lack of seating and eulogies. At the wake, they stood in the doorway to her family's narrow townhouse, still holding the flowers and signed cards they'd brought to the funeral (no one had told them that Vietnamese families take cash), and waved at Ky like they were getting a waiter's attention.

"Hi, Ky!" Mr. Dickson said in a voice that was too cheerful for the occasion, his mouth stretched wide in what appeared to be an effort to correctly pronounce her name. He'd always called her Kai, even though she'd corrected him in year eight when she sat in his math class four times a week. "Keeee," she'd said, her voice small, "like a key that unlocks a door." Maybe it was amnesia, but every time he read the class roster, she became Kai again, and after a third correction, she gave up. Kee. Kai. Whatever.

"Hey," Ky said, rushing to clear a spot on the coffee table for the flowers.

She could feel the teachers' eyes scan her parents' living room, identifying everything that was familiar to them (Panasonic television, years-old McDonald's Happy Meal toys on top of the VCR, Ky's framed university degree, photos of Denny winning Highest Academic Achievement four years in a row), and everything that was unfamiliar (the ancestral altar that featured black-and-white photos of her unsmiling dead grandparents, a bright red calendar hanging above the television reminding them that 1996 was the year of the rat, a doorway full of shoes). The other teachers, whom Ky recognized as Ms. Faulkner and Ms. Buck, continued to study the room, smiling at Ky's younger cousins, one of whom grimaced in response.

"Are your parents around?" Mr. Dickson asked.

"Mum's in the kitchen."

Her mother had stayed up the night before hand-rolling more than a hundred buns for the wake. Ky helped stamp the tops of the buns with a spot of red food coloring but expressed skepticism about her family needing to prepare so much food. Because even though she'd been away from Cabramatta for four years, she knew how this town worked: If a family suffered a "good" death—the kind that happened to old people, the kind that everyone was prepared for—the Asians in town showed up with family members in tow, gifting envelopes stuffed with cash. But if it was a "bad" death—the kind caused by terrible luck, where children or gangs or heroin were involved—everyone was suddenly too busy, was out of town, or hadn't heard the news. Her own parents had pulled a similar move on friends and acquaintances before, claiming that they were tied up with work when really they were superstitious about bad luck rubbing off with proximity.

"This is different," her mother had said after Ky questioned who would eat all the food they were making. She refused to look Ky in the eyes when she spoke. She refused to acknowledge that Denny had suffered a bad death, the worst kind, a nightmare that stole her words and silenced her family. She refused to stop moving, as though afraid the truth would catch up to her if she slowed for even a moment.

Ky had made a show of dropping the stamp onto the kitchen counter. "How is this different?" she said, trying to draw her mother's eyes back to her, trying to get someone—anyone—in the family to look her straight in the face and talk about her brother.

"Because he is my son!" her mother said, slamming the dough back onto the counter so hard it looked like her body was ready to collapse into itself.

Excerpted from All That's Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien. Copyright © 2022 by Tracey Lien. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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