Welcome to Karen Ma’s official website.
Excess Baggage is Chinese-American writer Karen Ma’s exciting debut novel. The story follows two Chinese sisters, one raised in China during the desolate Cultural Revolution; the other in Japan during the freewheeling years of bubble capitalism. They reunite as adults in Tokyo in the early 1990s and their family history soon catches up with them.
Zhang Peiyin, ‘the forgotten’ sister left behind in China, is hell-bent on securing her due compensation after giving up everything in the old country, including her two children, to join her family in Japan. After years of deprivation with little to do but dream, she imagines finding riches, fame, and comfort from a family that receives her with wide-open arms.
Instead, she finds a wary welcome from her estranged parents and her insecure, competitive younger sister, Vivian, who wants to drive her back to China. As the two navigate ensuing events, including a death in the family, and grapple with their growing distrust, they confront their vastly different expectations, dreams and value systems. Ultimately, each must confront a fundamental question: what’s the meaning of home when your roots aren’t secure?
Karen welcomes comments from readers. If you want to get in touch, please send a note to karenmainindia.gmail.com
Praise for Excess Baggage
“I couldn’t put down this immensely readable first novel about a dysfunctional Chinese family living in Japan. In Excess Baggage, Karen Ma takes the reader on a wild romp from China of the 1960s to the sex clubs and fashionable art galleries of the 1990s Tokyo. The book is great fun and at the same time packed with wisdom about the struggle between traditional Asian families and the imperative to get rich. At the center of the book are two sisters, separated as children when their parents flee the famine of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” and cannot take all of their children. Abandoned at age eight, Pei suffers the hardships of the Cultural Revolution, the loss of her parents and the insecurity of wondering why she was the only one abandoned. Her younger sister, Vivian, grows up in Tokyo, is educated in the United States, but is tormented by the sense she has nowhere to call home. When the two sisters are reunited in Tokyo, jealousy flares. Together, they eventually uncover their family’s many lies and secrets. ” — Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, winner of the 2010 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize.
“(This is) a moving account of alienation and displacement in a Chinese family split by modern China’s political and social upheaval. Two sisters, one who follows her parents to Japan and while the other is left behind in China, long to reconnect after years of separation. With vivid prose, Karen Ma takes us on a momentous journey with a Chinese family as it tries to grow new roots in a foreign land.” —Yan Geling, awarding-winning author of Banquet Bug, White Snake and The Flowers of War.
“This winning first novel whispers with a tender yet searing voice that evokes perfectly the East Asian setting. It effortlessly captures the suspicions and dependencies of a dysfunctional family transplanted in stages from China to Japan, unwrapping its members’ flaws, feuds and life-giving fascinations. Buoyed by brushstrokes of gentle humor and not an ounce of pretension, the author conjures up characters with an unexpected emotional charge.” — Oliver August, author of Inside the Red Mansion, on the Trail of China’s Most Wanted Man.
“An intensely intimate portrait of a Chinese family’s turmoil as it struggles to endure in the battered and impoverished Chinese diaspora in Japan. Karen Ma brings her deep experience in Asia to bear in penetrating into the souls of Chinese and Japanese alike, exposing the fragility of hope and the depths of cruelty, the clash of cultures and the search for identity. In prose that is alternatively gripping and wrenching, Excess Baggage asks the questions that haunt all exiles from their homeland: who, after all, are we?” –Edward Gargan, author of China’s Fate.
“I have really enjoyed the book. I read it nearly in one go, couldn’t put it down. It was a sensitive and insightful book. The story of the Chinese immigrant family in Japan was fascinating, the characters nicely drawn out and convincing, written with great empathy. The plot and the pace were both well balanced, and there are many wonderful observations of cultural differences that resonate with my own experiences of living abroad. I am particularly impressed with the subtle way Ma describes the relationship between mother and daughters and that of the complex feelings of rivalry and affection between the two sisters. Well done for a first novel!” –Liu Hong, author of Starling Moon, Magpie Bridge and most recently, Wives of East Wind
“This is a heartfelt novel that takes us deep inside a diasporic family that was ruptured and twisted by the turmoil of 1960s China and is still struggling to re-unite decades later. Ma crosses cultural borders to evoke the mood of people and places with skill and insight. The characters are painfully real as is the bitterness they have to chew in the Tokyo and Dalian of the 1990s. But suffering brings greater understanding and ultimately the possibility of reconciliation.”–Jonathan Watts, author of When a Billion Chinese Jump.