Time sustains and ultimately devastates a brilliant physicist in Meng Jin's ambitious, stomach-twisting debut, Little Gods. Underestimated, if not outright ignored, by her peers in China, a young Su Lan notches the highest score in her high school class and moves to the city to shed her rural childhood and research a revolutionary theory of time. Her classmates, Yongzong and Zhang Bo, are each slowly enraptured by her, to the point of near torment. In Shanghai, her aging neighbor, Zhu Wen, is similarly captivated.
But readers will sympathize most, at least initially, with Liya, Su Lan's daughter. Now studying in the U.S., she books a plane to China, carrying her mother's ashes, as she attempts to understand what tore apart their once-inseparable bond. Liya pursues a father she's never met, but her own identity is thrown into question when she discovers she was born not in 1988 but in 1989, on June 4, the night of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing. As Liya attempts to piece together her mother's story--and in the process unspools her own--Little Gods leaps among narrative threads, pulling off an impressive feat of character-shuffling.
Weaving intentionally (and effectively) through decades of China's past, mirroring Su Lan's frustrated and ultimately unfinished study of physics and time, Little Gods is both imaginative and deeply rooted in reality. Jin offers a glimpse into the life of a complicated scientist, one who wishes to capture the very essence of life but struggles to connect with the life around her. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer and editor