Reviews & Interviews

Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

“This is both a gorgeous novel of particulars set against the fascinating backdrop of the Chinese mountains, and a hauntingly universal account of loss, gain, and new beginnings.”

Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

At the Heart of the Universe is poignant and tender, a novel about love, about parenting and the nature of home. Shem’s insights about China and about character remind us that geography is destiny. This is a lovely, transformative story.”

James Carroll, author Warburg in Rome

“The historic confrontation between America and China is distilled to its poignant essence in At the Heart of the Universe–a story of one family and its unbreakable ties both to one another, and to the larger human fate. Samuel Shem is a sharp-minded, compassionate writer whose work always illuminates.”

Ha Jin, author of Waiting and A Map of Betrayal

At the Heart of the Universe tells a moving story that is full of understanding, intimacy, and psychological intensity. In the context of a harrowing adventure in contemporary China, this large-hearted novel reaffirms the necessity of empathy, self-discovery, and love.”

Adam Pertman, President of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency, author of Adoption Nation

“A wise and important book that’s entertaining, insightful—and on the mark. A story that will ring true for everyone with personal experience in the subject, from the beautifully-described Chinese settings to the adoption process itself; it will resonate with those tens of thousands of readers and will touch them deeply. But the real value—and strength—of this book is that it transcends its most obvious audience and, from the first page, becomes what all good literature aspires to be: a great tale, engagingly written, with universal appeal. The journey of the family Macy—and the Chinese birthmother, Xiao Lu—quickly becomes one of fierce emotional ups and down, always teetering on the edge of failure and sorrow, but ultimately rising to a level of profound acceptance and joy. This could become a phenomenon in its own. Its treatment of major issues relating to adoption will certainly appeal to millions of additional members of families formed through adoption from other countries and domestically, and ‘normalizing’ adoption and helping the general public understand this world more accurately.”

Shanti Fry, Founder of the national organization Families of Children from China

“A fascinating, very moving novel—I couldn’t put it down. An imaginative and truly creative exploration of the amazing ways that adoption affects the many people touched by it. It should be read by all Chinese adopted families—and will be read by most of them—and anyone intrigued by the coming together of American and Chinese cultures. If I saw it in a bookstore I would pick up right away, no question.”

Carter Heyward, Ph.D., Howard Chandler Robbins Professor of Theology Emeritus, Episcopal Divinity School

“This, Samuel Shem’s most beautiful book, rings true to all families that run deep with steady, sometimes turbulent, currents of love churning with ambiguity, insecurities, jealousy, fear, and strong commitments to one another and to the larger world as well. It testifies to a cultural phenomenon that has swept the United States and other parts of the West: the adoption of Chinese girls. The portrayal of the Chinese birth-mother Xiao Lu is simply stunning, and offers a window into a culture that few Westerners have seen with such wise perception as Shem’s. For people in the U.S. and elsewhere in the West to have an opportunity to engage this “missing girl,” and to wrestle with its layers of meaning, will be such a joy. This novel is a rare gift from the publishing world, a novel at its best—to be savored and shared and saved and, if you are a teacher like me, drawn from in courses on theology and ethics to illustrate the subtleties and ironies of our struggles to love one another and the world.”

Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, author of What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine.

“Entwining ancient Chinese customs and modern American family life, Shem takes us on a compelling journey into the thicket of desperate love and aching doubts that define the parent-child relationship.”

Professor Ross Terrill, Harvard University Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, author Mao, China in our Time, Madame Mao, and The New Chinese Empire

“Sailing down the Yangzi I read At the Heart of the Universe with pleasure. It’s a poignant story of China and America, an earnest family, and how race affects all, yet ultimately does not matter. ‘At the Heart of the Universe’ is an honest, earthy, deeply-felt novel. Scenes now wrenching, now joyous, will linger in readers’ minds. So will sights and sounds and emotions of rural China. The exciting pages of ‘At the Heart of the Universe’ shed a whole new light on the term Chinese-American.”

Shilpi Somaya Gowda, NYT bestselling author of Secret Daughter

At the Heart of the Universe is a moving exploration of what it means to be a family in this global world, and the complications of love within it. These characters are heartbreaking in both their flaws and yearnings, and by the ending, I had tears in my eyes.”