Announcing Our Best Books of 2021

Summary and book reviews of Nights When Nothing Happened by Simon Han

Nights When Nothing Happened

by Simon Han

Nights When Nothing Happened by Simon Han X
Nights When Nothing Happened by Simon Han
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2020, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2021, 272 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

From the outside, the Chengs seem like so-called model immigrants. Once Patty landed a tech job near Dallas, she and Liang grew secure enough to have a second child, and to send for their first from his grandparents back in China. Isn't this what they sacrificed so much for?

But then little Annabel begins to sleepwalk at night, putting into motion a string of misunderstandings that not only threaten to set their community against them but force to the surface the secrets that have made them fear one another. How can a man make peace with the terrors of his past? How can a child regain trust in unconditional love? How can a family stop burying its history and forge a way through it, to a more honest intimacy?

Nights When Nothing Happened is gripping storytelling immersed in the crosscurrents that have reshaped the American landscape, from a prodigious new literary talent.

Excerpt
Nights When Nothing Happened

Late August and early September were the long days of learning. The locker-lined walls of Fillmore Middle School penned Jack in, while his sister's school, Plano Star Care, shuttled its students on field trips ambitious even for the gifted. During her third week of kindergarten, after a visit to the JFK assassination museum, Annabel used a word she'd never used before: fascinating. "They got video," she told their mother as the two of them sat at the kitchen table, tearing the ends off green beans. "Fascinating."

In the adjoining living room, the TV in front of Jack announced the latest scandal in the Catholic Church. Numbers were thrown out. Twelve. Eighty-four. Five hundred and fifty-two. These were scary numbers, the steely eyed commentator stated. Before the commercial break, she promised that they would return to the war coverage.

"He was in the car," Annabel said. "And the car had no roof. And his head went blam! Like when Daddy dropped the ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Annabel's nocturnal behavior is a metaphor for the ways in which the Chengs, particularly the parents, are sleepwalking through their lives. Han's characterization of Patty and Liang is expert; their parental negligence is fully explored as a consequence of their personal insecurities and backstories. Patty is singularly focused on her work because it gives her confidence and a sense of purpose. Liang's mother died when he was young and he was raised by an abusive, often absent father. Thus he had no model from which to learn how to be a parent. Han's novel is fundamentally a story about an immigrant family, but how this aspect of the Chengs' lives might relate to Annabel's behavioral issues or the problems in Patty and Liang's marriage remains ambiguous, just outside the narrative frame...continued

Full Review Members Only (726 words).

(Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Media Reviews

The Washington Post
Entirely worth the investment. . . . Han’s expansive sympathy and twilight lyricism make Nights When Nothing Happened a poignant study of the immigrant experience. This is an author who understands on a profound level the way past trauma interacts with the pressures of assimilation to disrupt a good night’s sleep, even a life

The Millions
Brings texture, nuance, and subtlety to the reductionist condescension of the 'model minority' trope.

The San Francisco Chronicle
Han writes with sublime suspense. . . . [he] has a keen ability to write of not only the subtleties of the disappointments and loneliness that can be found within families, but also of how the specific and often unsubtle threats of American oppression, especially against perceived outsiders, can seep into the immigrant’s most intimate familial relationships.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Han excels at depicting bright, bland Plano, a suburb of ‘sprinkler-fed grass,’ ‘vanilla-scented pine cones,’ and ‘oven mitts and motion sensors.’ Even in carefully planned, hermetically sealed Plano, there’s no controlling the cascade of events that ensue when a wild child is unleashed in a community that does not understand her family.

The New York Times Book Review
This novel reminds us what it’s like navigating a foreign country. . . . Much to admire.

Esquire
[A] dazzling debut . . . . In this subtle but deeply felt story, Han elegantly takes aim at suburban racism, generational trauma, and the secrets we keep from one another in order to stay afloat.

Publishers Weekly
[A]mbitious...Han succeeds in drawing the portrait of a new American family while demonstrating a talent for creating a sense of place through the eyes of immigrants. The premise is intriguing, but Han doesn't quite stick the landing.

Booklist
In this exemplary debut, Han explores childhood trauma and the impact words and silence can have on both building and harming relationships. He writes with sensitivity and tenderness, allowing his fully fleshed-out characters to take on lives of their own and tell their heartbreaking perspectives directly to readers. Readers will be gripped by this beautiful debut.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[R]emarkable...Han's characters are authentic, vulnerable, and utterly convincing, delivering one dynamite novel. An astutely realized portrait of the collateral damage wrought by the pursuit of the American dream

Author Blurb Kevin Wilson, author of Nothing to See Here and The Family Fang
In this beautiful, unsettling novel, Simon Han captures the state of being awake and yet asleep, of belonging and yet not, of waiting for the moment when the world opens up. With the turn of a crystalline sentence, he reveals how fragile we are, and what it takes to survive. An unbelievable debut.

Author Blurb Bryan Washington, author of Lot
Absolutely luminous. Han weaves the transience of suburbia between the highs and lows of a family saga, illustrating what a parent owes a child, what a child owes their parents, and what simply cannot be repaid. His novel shocks, awes, and delights.

Author Blurb Angie Kim, author of Miracle Creek
Simon Han explores the desire to belong—to a marriage, a family, a community, a country. Nights When Nothing Happened is about how we use words and silences to connect and to wound, and how we make sacrifices for those we love. It broke my heart and gave me hope, all at the same time.

Author Blurb Lorrie Moore, author of A Gate at the Stairs and Birds of America
A tender, spiky family saga about love in all its mysterious incarnations. Simon Han is a wonderfully adventurous and sensitive writer.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

East Asian Populations in Plano, Texas

Simon Han's debut novel Nights When Nothing Happened is set in Plano, Texas, located about 20 miles north of Dallas and 50 miles northeast of Fort Worth. The Chengs, who are Chinese American, have chosen to live in Plano because it is a safe community with good schools, but what's not stated overtly is that the city and surrounding area also have a fairly large East Asian population, including people of Korean, Japanese and Chinese descent. The 2010 United States census put the number of Chinese people living in Plano at 14,500, but in a 2012 interview with D Magazine, executive vice president of the Association of Chinese Professionals Charlie Yue suggested that the real number could be closer to 30,000, which would make up about 10 ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Read-alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Nights When Nothing Happened, try these:

  • Transcendent Kingdom jacket

    Transcendent Kingdom

    by Yaa Gyasi

    Published 2021

    About this book

    More by this author

    Yaa Gyasi's stunning follow-up to her acclaimed national bestseller Homegoing is a powerful, raw, intimate, deeply layered novel about a Ghanaian family in Alabama.

  • Things We Lost to the Water jacket

    Things We Lost to the Water

    by Eric Nguyen

    Published 2021

    About this book

    A stunning debut novel about an immigrant Vietnamese family who settles in New Orleans and struggles to remain connected to one another as their lives are inextricably reshaped.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search read-alikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket
    People from My Neighborhood
    by Hiromi Kawakami
    People from My Neighborhood is exactly what it sounds like — an unnamed narrator recounts a ...
  • Book Jacket
    Win Me Something
    by Kyle Lucia Wu
    Kyle Lucia Wu's Win Me Something opens with a young woman named Willa explaining that she did not ...
  • Book Jacket: The Island of Missing Trees
    The Island of Missing Trees
    by Elif Shafak
    The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak tells a tale of generational trauma, explores identity ...
  • Book Jacket: The Correspondents
    The Correspondents
    by Judith Mackrell
    In the introduction to The Correspondents, author Judith Mackrell points out that although there had...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    True Crime Story
    by Joseph Knox

    The #1 international bestselling novel. What happens to all the girls who go missing?

Who Said...

When I get a little money I buy books...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

I Y Can't S T H, G O O T K

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.