Made in China A memoir of love and labor

Anna Qu

Book - 2021

"As a teen, Anna Qu is sent by her mother to work in her family's garment factory in Queens. At home, she is treated as a maid and suffers punishment for doing her homework at night. Her mother wants to teach her a lesson: she is Chinese, not American, and such is their tough path in their new country. But instead of acquiescing, Qu alerts the Office of Children and Family Services, an act with consequences that impact the rest of her life. Nearly twenty years later, estranged from her mother and working at a Manhattan start-up, Qu requests her OCFS report. When it arrives, key details are wrong. Faced with this false narrative, and on the brink of losing her job as the once-shiny start-up collapses, Qu looks once more at her life...'s truths, from abandonment to an abusive family to seeking dignity and meaning in work. Traveling from Wenzhou to Xi'an to New York, Made in China is a fierce memoir unafraid to ask thorny questions about trauma and survival in immigrant families, the meaning of work, and the costs of immigration."--Amazon.

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Review by Booklist Review

Toiling in her mother's sweatshop, then later in a failing tech start-up, a young woman ponders labor, loneliness, and love, the subjects of this poignant memoir. Raised by grandparents in China, Qu was "the girl without parents; father dead, a mother who left to start a new life." Reunited with her mother in Queens, New York, she becomes an outcast within her own family, forbidden to do anything that might inconvenience her stepfather or outshine her half-siblings. As a teenager, Qu is forced to prioritize housecleaning over her schoolwork and endure long shifts in the family's garment factory. Eventually, with the help of a guidance counselor, Qu calls the child-welfare authorities on her mother. Years later, estranged from her family and about to be laid off from her job at a "smoke and mirrors" start-up, Qu considers that work has been both burden and solace, a grueling pathway to autonomy and a defense mechanism against shame. Vividly narrated and psychologically perceptive, Qu's story uses family trauma to find perspective on immigration and perhaps even America itself.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Qu rewrites the bootstrap narrative of immigrants building a better life for their children in her grim and entrancing debut. Her "path to the American dream" amounts to a devastating story of abuse and abandonment, beginning in 1985 Wenzhou, China, when her mother left her as a toddler with her grandparents "to start a new life" in America. Her disappointment "steeped like tea, growing dark and bitter" until her mother came back for her in 1991. While she was away, Qu's mother " behind her country manners" and married (and had two children with) the owner of the Queens sweatshop where she worked. When Qu arrived in America, she learned English and excelled at school, but was forced to work in the sweatshop under the watch of her mother, whose "fury ran so deep, every word dripped with resentment and venom." She eventually reported her parents to authorities, and with the help of child services, was able to come to a "truce" with her mother. Even in revisiting her harrowing memories, Qu writes from a place of empathy, transcending pain to embrace hope: "Sacrifice is in every generation of our family. I am no exception." This marks the arrival of a promising new voice. Agent: Duvall Osteen, Aragi. (Aug.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

In her debut memoir, Qu (nonfiction editor, Kweli journal), who was born in Wenzhou, China, and raised in Queens, NY, tries to make sense of a fraught childhood with a critical and withholding mother. Qu's father died not long after she was born, and her mother soon emigrated to the United States in search of opportunity. Qu was raised in Wenzhou by her grandparents until the age of seven, when her mother brought her to New York. She describes the family's changed dynamics after her mother marries and has two more children with a Taiwanese man who owns a New York sweatshop. The family only speaks Mandarin, a language Qu doesn't understand. She is treated like a servant and made to care for her two younger half-siblings, clean, and cook. Struggling to get along with her mother in her teen years, she is sent to China to live with strangers and, upon returning to New York, is made to work long hours in her stepfather's garment factory. Qu's high school guidance counselor alerts authorities, on the author's behalf, to notify them of her parents' violation of child labor laws. This leads to Qu's eventual estrangement from her family. VERDICT A nuanced examination of complicated ripple effects of intergenerational emigration. A powerful memoir of finding self-worth.--Barrie Olmstead, Lewiston P.L., ID

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A grim yet gripping memoir of an unhappy, nearly loveless childhood and the author's determined escape to a better adulthood. Born in Wenzhou, China, Qu remained with her grandparents after her father died--whether of illness or in an auto accident, she was never sure--and her mother moved to New York. There, her mother "worked hard, caught the eye of the owner of the sweatshop she worked in, remarried, and had two kids. Not only had she succeeded in making her American dream come true, she had also managed to bring her 7-year-old daughter with her. It was an achievement worth celebrating." When she moved in with her new family, the parents showered her half siblings with attention, food, and gifts--but not the author. Still a child, she was put to work in that sweatshop, toiling under the eye of her stepfather for 40 or 50 hours per week; at home, she was banished to the basement. Finally, her mother sent her back to China only to allow her to return to live not as the "outsider" of before but now as a clear "intruder." Qu describes her mother with steely words: "She wore a fitted red suit with kitten heels," for instance, "her hair pulled back from her face in a neat way that made her opinion a fact." Eventually, the author filed a complaint with child protective services and was met with indifference. "The system I turned to is ineffective, neglectful, and careless," she writes. "I was wrong to call them, wrong to think they stood for justice and the safety of children, wrong to be naïve, wrong to be so idealistic." Later, Qu left for college, working diligently in both school and as a restaurant server and retail salesperson, earning grudging respect--but still not love--from her mother. The book is well written and sometimes brilliantly insightful, but it's also saturated with seething resentment that, while thoroughly understandable, may turn some readers away. A simultaneously powerful and depressing latter-day Dickensian story sure to elicit sympathy from readers. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.