- Trachtman, Howard
- Date of entry: Mar-21-2023
- Last revised: Mar-21-2023
Celeste 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.
The story 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.