The year is 1959. When Chinese businessman Leo Lin loses his livelihood, his Caucasian American wife Margaret replaces him as sole breadwinner, creating a cascade of domestic crises that mirrors the Cold War raging between the United States and Communist China. Their oldest daughter Prudence elopes. Denise, the middle daughter, escapes into French literature and her prophetic imagination. Lorraine, the youngest, takes refuge in the Catholic Church and the Mickey Mouse Club. But it is when Leo’s fresh-off-the-boat mother Nai-nai comes to live with them in their New York suburban home that the family unit threatens to rupture. The final blow is delivered by Leo’s imperious father Guoxin who reveals a terrible secret that has kept him prisoner of his past and all the Lins hostage to his unremitting sense of guilt and shame.

Alternating between chapters of a novel and scenes from a screenplay, The Forest for the Trees is a dark comedy about a clash of cultures and generations, a biracial coming-of-age story, and a psychological thriller about inherited trauma. It offers the reader a hybrid experience as well as a liminal approach to understanding the book’s all-too-human characters whose words and actions are not only misunderstood but also anathema to their deepest desires.

The Forest for the Trees

Advance Praise for The Forest for the Trees

“Is Lucinda Wu a grave robber or a “grave gifter”? This genre-crossing novel proves uproarious and poignant as it tackles culture, love, family secrets, and their commodification, but also provocative.”
Gish Jen, author of Thank You, Mr. Nixon and The Resisters

The Forest for the Trees is a genre-bending treat, both playful and hard-hitting, funny and insightful. Leslie Li’s characters wrestle with painful questions of loyalty—to each other, to previous generations, to nations and codes of conduct—while they garden and tap dance and give the exact wrong performance at a birthday dinner. This is a multigenerational family drama neatly tucked inside a swift-moving, delightful novel inside a movie inside a novel.
Caitlin Horrocks, author of The Vexations

“In Leslie Li’s deeply felt, tightly woven hybrid novel—part prose, part screenplay—a multi-generational Chinese-Czechoslovakian-American family in 1959 learns that sometimes the world has to fall apart in order to come back together again. If you’ve ever struggled to be true to yourself while also honoring your family, don’t miss this book.”
Will Allison, author of Long Drive Home

“[Like] Gish Jen’s Typical American and Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, Leslie Li’s moving novel probes the true complexity of relationships that dare to straddle conflicting loyalties and traditions. Although set more than fifty years ago, this innovative portrait of a Chinese-American family divided by race, ethnicity, culture, and traumatic history—but united by deep, if troubled, love—rings truer than ever in today’s polarized world.”

Aimée Liu, author of the novel Glorious Boy

“Strong emotions and grand acts (both laudable and shameful) power The Forest for the Trees. The narrative compresses three generations of family history into one difficult year in the life of a Chinese-American family, whose members are struggling to locate themselves amid competing and conflicting cultural, economic, religious, and personal value systems.”

Debra Spark, author of the novel Discipline

“This book was such an intriguing read—I identified with all of the characters. The story speaks volumes about Chinese Immigrants landing on new soil, reluctant to embrace their new environment. It mirrors the many family dynamics I grew up with as an American-born, first-generation child watching my friends’ immigrant parents slowly assimilating through their children who were born in the landed country. The scene with Nai-nai yelling to stop the car came right out of my own experience. Just like Nai-nai, my mother yelled at the top of her lungs to stop the car in the middle of our Seattle neighborhood when she saw—growing wild, bountiful and free—gow gay!!!  Instead of the Land of the Gold Mountain (Gim San), for her, America could have been the Land of Abundant Gow Gay! A thoroughly enjoyable read.”

Lori Tan Chinn, actor, “Kung Fu Panda 4” and “Awkwafina Is Hangin’ With Grandma”