Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The Missing Hearts

This past week, I finished a book called "Our Missing Hearts" by Celeste Ng.

This is the first novel by Ms. Ng I've read.  Unlike her other two novels, this is a dystopian novel.  Or perhaps not quite dystopian, because almost everything in this book has happened before, in one form or another.  This happens to be a genre I enjoy but this book hit a little bit too close to home.  It was chilling - a near future United States that is totally believable.

Briefly, this is the plot: Bird (a nickname; his given name is Noah) is a 12 year old boy with an Asian mother and a white father.  He lives with his father in a future United States which was transformed by a terrible economic crisis fifteen years before, called simply The Crisis.  China and South Korea are blamed (correctly or not) for The Crisis and eventually, anyone who is, or looks like, they are of Asian origin bore the brunt of this popular belief. 

PACT (the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act) is passed by Congress in a bipartisan vote and signed into law 10 years before the events in this novel begins.  Among other things, PACT gives the government the right to remove children from any household not deemed patriotic enough.  Books are censored, eventually removed from libraries, and pulped.  The pulp is then used to manufacture toilet paper.  One such book is a book of poetry called "Our Missing Hearts" written by Bird's mother, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, which inspires those who engage in small acts of rebellion against PACT.

To prevent Bird from being taken, Bird's mother left the family and went into hiding three years before the novel begins.  Bird's father, protectively, denounces his wife and tells his son to forget his mother.  But then a communication comes in the mail....

A memory came back to me.

In 2020, my spouse and I were supposed to go to my 50th high school reunion. Well, not all of it.  Not the expensive dinner dance that would have taken place in Manhattan (also necessitating a hotel stay). But rather, I looked forward to an Alumni Day at our school.   I ha not set foot in my high school since my graduation, nor had I gone to previous reunions.  No matter.  Thanks to COVID, the 2020 reunion was cancelled.  

There were a handful of people I wanted to see again.  One of them was a woman I shared a locker with for part of my high school years.  We remained in touch during college and for a couple of years after we graduated.  Gradually, we lost touch.

I can't remember what initially attracted us to start a friendship.  We came from totally different backgrounds.  Me - Jewish, with grandparents from Belarus and from Austria-Hungary.  My locker mate was the daughter of Chinese immigrants.  My high school, back then, had a lot of Asian students.  It has many more now.

Today (based on statistics I found online) my high school is about 23% white and 79% "minority".  What would the framers of PACT had felt about that?

I must confess to this: When I started hearing about the large uptick in hate crimes against Asians in 2021, it was just part of the flood of news all of us are subject to.  It's overwhelming, the news, if you pay attention to each and every thing. But then, something caught in my mind.  It was wrong for me to ignore what was happening.

My thoughts turned to my former high school locker mate and college pen pal more than once, as I saw videos of elderly Asians attacked on the street, some fatally.  If she is alive today, my friend has closed in on 70, like me.  If her parents are still alive, they are probably in their 90's.  All of them are vulnerable in a way that I can not fully understand because my experience is not their experience. 

Did my lockermate have children?  Grandchildren?  What has been their experience?

I walk down the street and my face does not provoke hate.  Others walk down the street and face daily harassment or worse.  

Under PACT, all of that would have happening openly, with no recourse.

(I highly recommend Ng's novel, incidentally, although it was hard for me to get through some parts of it, and I had to put the book aside for several days more than once.)

Are we on our way to a similar future United States?  It's up to us.


  1. ...these attacks are unacceptable.

  2. Yeah, that’s the thing. Jews have been subject to some of the worst hate crimes known to humanity. But we can hide from antisemitism, blend in with the crowd, we don’t wear our Jewish identity on our faces the way Asians (or Black people, etc.) do.

  3. This story is terrifying to me, as I can almost see it all coming to life in my lifetime.

  4. I've read other books by Ng and have this one on my "want to read" list. I probably won't get to it until next year - it's a very long and growing list - but your review gives me a good idea of what I am in for. Thank you for it.

  5. My high school also had a large Asian population. That area of Orange County still does. The whole backlash at that population over Covid made me angry. Still does. No one in my orbit says anything like that. But yeah, it could easily happen and it has happened in the past. We can't let it.

  6. Japan did well in preserving their own culture and traditions. Not so much for the rest of Asians living around the world.

  7. My community is I believe is 98% white and majority is quite ultra conservative. I know a few secular Jewish people in my area, But the group in my area who was so called picked on is our Native people the kootenai Indians in past. Now it seem to me is L.Q.B.T.Q.I.A
    Coffee is on and stay safe


Thank you for visiting! Your comments mean a lot to me, and I appreciate each one. These comments are moderated, so they may not post for several hours. If you are spam, you will find your comments in my compost heap, where they will finally serve a good purpose.