A captivating and intimate debut novel interwoven with folktale and myth, Wendy Chen’s Their Divine Fires tells the story of the love affairs of three generations of Chinese women across one hundred years of revolutions both political and personal.
In 1917, at the dawn of the Chinese Revolution, Yunhong grows up in the southern China countryside and falls deeply in love with the son of a wealthy landlord despite her brother's objections. On the night of her wedding, her brother destroys the marriage before it has even lasted a day and irrevocably changes the shape of Yunhong's family to come; her daughter Yuexin will never know her father. Haunted by a history that she will never fully understand, Yuexin passes those memories onto her daughters Hongxing and Yonghong, who come of age in the years following Mao’s death, battling the push and pull of political forces as they forge their own paths. Each generation guards its secrets, leaving Emily, great granddaughter of Yunhong and living in contemporary America, to piece together what actually happened between her mother, her sister, and the weight of their shared ancestry.
Drawing on the lives of her great-grandmother and her great-uncles—both of whom fought on the side of the Communists—as well as her mother’s experiences during the Cultural Revolution, Wendy Chen infuses Their Divine Fires with a passion that will transport the reader back to powerful moments in history while bringing us close to the women who persisted despite the forces all around them. Both brilliant and haunting, it's a story about what our ancestors will, and won't, tell us.
About the Author
Wendy Chen is the author of the award-winning poetry collection Unearthings. Her short stories, creative nonfiction, translations, and reviews have appeared widely including Freeman’s, A Public Space, North American Review, and American Poets. Her work has been translated into multiple languages and has been adapted into musical compositions.
Chen is also the prose editor of Tupelo Press, editor of Figure 1 and associate editor-in-chief of Tupelo Quarterly. She is the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Most Promising Young Poet Prize. Chen earned her MFA in creative writing from Syracuse University and her PhD in English from the University of Denver. She teaches creative writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“Their Divine Fires is a gorgeous, emotionally searing debut about the lasting and mysterious effects of the past—both political and personal—particularly on girls and women confined and defined by others in a volatile world. Chen has woven together a deeply moving, complex novel that takes us on multiple journeys of love, sacrifice, and grief. These characters are utterly unforgettable. What an incredible, artful feat announcing the arrival of a brilliant writer.”—Alexandra Chang, author of Days of Distraction
"Their Divine Fires captures both the colossal and the intimate. It is precise and also containing grand histories. A beautiful, and necessary art."—Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of Chain Gang All-Stars
“Their Divine Fires is utterly hypnotic—the kind of novel only a poet could write. Never before have I read a debut that captures so perfectly the ache of what is left unsaid between generations. This is the family saga that I’ve been craving for years, a sensitive and deeply human reckoning with the aftermath of historical trauma and what happens when we try to speak the unspeakable. Chen’s writing is arresting, lyrical, and full of verve. Their Divine Fires will burn in my memory for years to come.” —Ruth Madievsky, author of All-Night Pharmacy
“Impressively epic yet intimate, unputdownable yet historically significant, Their Divine Fires moved me to my core. What an incredible page-turner! What a rare talent Wendy Chen is! Inspired by the author’s family experiences, this debut novel is a testament to the power of fiction in reconciling with the secrets of our past. The lyricism of Wendy’s prose and the emotional depth of her storytelling will stay with me for years to come.”—Nguy?n Phan Qu? Mai, internationally bestselling author of The Mountains Sing and Dust Child
"Wendy Chen has crated a peerless first novel that I expect to be the sleeper hit of the season. Read it!"—Mary Karr, author of The Liar's Club
“Their Divine Fires is a fascinating and powerful debut. In gorgeous, elegant prose, Chen follows multiple generations of one family, intimately tracing how living through the Chinese Revolution and its aftermath shapes them in ways they don’t always fully understand. As the years go by, we see the consequences play out in their lives, and ultimately how their deep connections to one another prevail.”—Dana Spiotta, author of Wayward