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Set against the backdrop of developing modern China, this mesmerizing literary debut is part coming-of-age tale, part family and social drama, as it follows two generations searching for belonging and opportunity in a rapidly changing world—perfect for readers of Behold the Dreamers, White Ivy, and The Leavers.
Shanghai, 2007: Fourteen-year-old Alva has always longed for more. Raised by her American expat mother, she’s never known her Chinese father, and is certain a better life awaits them in America. But when her mother announces her engagement to their wealthy Chinese landlord, Lu Fang, Alva’s hopes are dashed, and so she plots for the next best thing: the American School in Shanghai. Upon admission, though, Alva is surprised to discover an institution run by an exclusive community of expats and the ever-wilder thrills of a city where foreigners can ostensibly act as they please.
1985: In the seaside city of Qingdao, Lu Fang is a young, married man and a lowly clerk in a shipping yard. Though he once dreamed of a bright future, he is one of many casualties in his country’s harsh political reforms. So when China opens its doors to the first wave of foreigners in decades, Lu Fang’s world is split wide open after he meets an American woman who makes him confront difficult questions about his current status in life, and how much will ever be enough.
In a stunning reversal of the east-to-west immigrant narrative and set against China’s political history and economic rise, River East, River West is an intimate family drama and a sharp social novel. Alternating between Alva and Lu Fang’s points of view, this is a profoundly moving exploration of race and class, cultural identity and belonging, and the often-false promise of the American Dream.
Aube Rey Lescure is a French-Chinese-American writer who grew up between Shanghai, northern China, and the south of France. After receiving her B.A. from Yale University, she worked in foreign policy and has co-authored and translated two books on Chinese politics and economics. She was the 2019 Ivan Gold Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston, a Pauline Scheer Fellow at GrubStreet, a finalist for the 2018 Boston Public Library Writer-in-Residence program, and an artist-in-residence at the Studios of Key West and Willapa Bay AiR. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in Guernica, Best American Essays, The Florida Review online, WBUR, and more.
“Smart, confident storytelling. . . [the novel] has perceptive things to say about the explosion of wealth in China and the fraught, totemic influence Americans have on the nation’s psyche.” — Wall Street Journal
“In River East, River West, Rey Lescure proves herself to be a remarkably humane storyteller, focusing on the ties between her characters and the worlds they inhabit in order to ground an ambitious, multi-generational story of global upheaval in personal, poignant detail.” — Boston Globe
“Delicately nuanced, devilishly propulsive, and achingly human, this is a coming-of-age story like no other.” — Oprah Daily
“This reverse-immigration story is both an intimate, poignant family drama and a sweeping, expansive chronicle of China’s political history. . . River East, River West is a perfect pick for book clubs and fans of Susie Yang's White Ivy and Lisa Ko's The Leavers.” — Bookreporter.com
“Captivating and sharp. . . Rey Lescure provides immersive depictions of Shanghai and Qingdao along with delicate character work. This is a remarkable story of a family caught between cultures.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Rey Lescure’s brilliant debut alternates between the lives of Lu Fang and Alva, placing their desires and evolving story lines in a vibrant social context. . . With an assured hand, Rey Lescure illuminates how even someone who feels trapped and diminished can still make a life.” — Booklist (starred review)
“River East, River West is a searing and intimate exploration of both China and the American Dream. Poignant and propulsive, thoughtful, and moving. I loved this book.” — Jean Kwok, New York Times bestselling author of Searching for Sylvie Lee
"In Aube Rey Lescure’s beautiful debut novel, familiar narratives of adolescence are scrambled across lines of class, race, and national difference. As her characters deepen with each chapter, she makes us feel the inexhaustible mystery of other lives. A moving portrait of the love between a mother and daughter, River East, River West portrays, too, our powerlessness against the riptides of history.” — Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanness
"River East, River West is a beautifully expansive tale of new beginnings—and the pasts we can't extricate ourselves from. From Qingdao to Shanghai, readers are invited into a richly layered world teeming with secrets, desires, and unexpected tenderness. Bright human insights shine through unforgettable characters fighting for their autonomy, often straining against familial bonds for a glimpse of freedom. In this exciting literary debut, Aube Rey Lescure deftly illuminates the difficult choices we make to save ourselves and each other." — Thao Thai, author of Banyan Moon
"River East, River West is a keen exploration of love, heritage, and the search for home, told through alternating points of view—rebellious Alva and her stepfather Lu Fang with secrets of his own. Aube Rey Lescure’s portrayal of the glitter and grit of China’s tumultuous economic rise is by turns luminous and searing. A haunting debut." — Vanessa Hua, author of Forbidden City
"At once tender and unflinching, River East, River West is a staggering, immersive coming-of-age set irresistibly amid the glamour and grime of a changing Shanghai. Aube Rey Lescure has crafted a vast, yet intimate, novel about performance and belonging, power and identity, that never loses focus on the fierce and broken hearts at its center—the magnetic repulsion and attraction of family splitting and reshaping. An extraordinary, riveting debut—I loved every word." — Katie Gutierrez, author of More Than You'll Ever Know
"A compelling and thought-provoking coming-of-age story about identity and the narratives we create about ourselves. It's a vivid portrait of China and the uneasy relationships of class and family history." — Catherine Cho, author of Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness
‘“River east, river west” comes from a famous Chinese saying, which suggests that the world or people’s destiny are always in constant change, and there is no fixed path of rise, fall, honour, or disgrace. Aube Rey Lescure has represented this idea brilliantly in her novel." — Xinran, author of The Good Women of China and Sky Burial