Ng’s Our Missing Hearts is set in the not-too-distant future, in the
wake of the Crisis that has ineradicably altered American society. After several
years of steadily worsening economic downturn and hardship, there is slowly escalating
social unrest. Random political violence erupts across the country. A protester
is killed and public opinion is inflamed. In the press and social media, China
is blamed for the turmoil. This unleashes a wave of discrimination and
persecution of Asian Americans. Emergency laws are passed to restore order and
to penalize Asian Americans and their sympathizers for purported anti-American
behavior. A punitive program is implemented to remove children from parents who
are viewed as enemies, real or potential, to the state.
centers on a precocious 12-year-old boy, Bird Gardner. His mother, Margaret Miu, of Chinese ancestry,
is a little known poet who wrote a
slim volume of poems several years before the social fabric began to fray. Without her knowledge, one of
the poems, “Our Missing Hearts”, has been adopted as a literary slogan by an
underground anti-government resistance movement She is targeted by anti-Asian extremists
and harassed by law enforcement. Rather than have her son “replaced,” the
government euphemism for removing children from families deemed disloyal and
putting them into foster care, she makes the wrenching decision to abandon him
and the husband she loves dearly and goes into hiding for three lonely years.
She is haunted by the pain of all the removed children and devises an act of
protest. It is modeled on the public works
created by current Chinese artists using gunpowder and other unusual materials.
Her goal is to increase awareness and hopefully termination of the “replacement”
program. Her hope is to trigger mass protest and the return of the removed
children to their grieving families. The narrative moves inexorably to an
unbearably sad ending.
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