Home > Book Review, Genre, Length - average but on the shorter side, memoir > Book Review: Made in China: A Memoir of Love and Labor by Anna Qu

Book Review: Made in China: A Memoir of Love and Labor by Anna Qu

Image of a digital bookcover. A yellow background with scissor open to cut three threads over it. The title of the book is in black. The author's name is in blue.

When Anna Qu was in high school, she had her guidance counselor call child protective services because her mother was making her work without pay in the family sweatshop. Her memoir uses this moment as the way into telling her life story. Of what happens when a family member is seemingly randomly selected as the one to ostracize.

I was immediately intrigued by this book because I thought – wow, what kind of mother brings her child to the US only to turn around and force her to work in a sweatshop? I could wrap my head around a mother owning and running a sweatshop. I could even imagine having your child work in a sweatshop in a different cultural context (due to need, due to cultural expectations, etc…). But the usual immigration story is a desire for your child to have a better life than your own. How does that compute if your own life is owning the sweatshop? I had to find out.

Anna’s mother immigrated to the US from China, leaving her in the care of her grandparents. She felt loved, but that changed when she joined her mother, new stepfather, and two new half-siblings in the US. An early warning sign of what is to come is seen at her arrival party thrown to celebrate her family’s ability to bring her over from China. How that party went awry and how the relationship with her mother started to fall apart is one of the most painful and eloquent scenes in the book.

Of course because this is a memoir we never get to know Anna’s mother’s motivations. But we do see some of her perspective revealed through the case worker, case documents, and what Anna’s grandmother had to say about it. A strength of this book is how the author is able to explore her mother’s own trauma without excusing her actions.

I was a ghost haunting a family that wanted nothing to do with me, and the loneliness left a tightness in my chest.

location 392

But Anna’s family wasn’t the only one to other her. Society did as well. Classmates perceived her as different and distanced themselves from her. When she went away to college, she did so without any familial support and found nothing at college was set up for people like her. She struggled to find places to stay on winter breaks, had to advocate to be declared independent from her family so she could get financial aid, and more. Thus we see the pain of noninclusive societies. How societal inclusion is even more important for people being denied by their own families.

The author also examines the two-pronged issue of sweatshop labor and workaholism. She views this as having started out as a necessity to make it in the US that then became a way of being.  Although the author acknowledges the exploitation of her own experience, she takes the time to point out how much worse it is for other people. For example, undocumented workers with no legal recourse.

Thus, the book explores what makes family, society, and workplaces abuse some and not others. It provides no easy answers but is a memorable call for greater inclusivity and empathy. Recommended for readers of memoirs with an interest in intergenerational trauma and/or immigration and labor issues.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 224 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Netgalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

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  1. August 10, 2021 at 11:36 pm

    Wow! This sounds like such an interesting read! Thank you for that lovely review!

    • August 12, 2021 at 11:18 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to comment! I hope if you pick it up you enjoy it.

  2. Carmen
    September 14, 2021 at 9:04 pm

    Having lived in China and Taiwan ,Korea I am not surprised the treament of a daughter, many in China are sold, even maimed to beg for beggars gangs,sold into prostitution.
    I was when I first arrived as a diplomat how Chinese parents would save themselves from a home fire leaving kids behind.
    What a face loss for her mother to writte about the neglect, beating ,abuse.
    I am more shocked that the grandmother that never worked in the USA gets Medicare, a total abuse .
    One can see it is a cultural behavior how women are treated.
    I read House in Sticks ,similar but with a vietnamese family,beatings,hunger, and working 12 hrs in the sweatshop at home.
    I give thanks to God daily for having born in a loving culture where females are treasured, where if a family has to choose who gets better education ,is the daughter or daughters that are chosen.
    In Korea it was appalling how easily girls were abandoned.
    They take multiple generations to acculturize and assimilate.

    • September 15, 2021 at 9:16 am

      Hi Carmen, thank you for sharing your perspective from your years of diplomacy work.

      I will just note that I think it’s important we all acknowledge that all cultures and peoples struggle with issues of abuse.

  1. August 14, 2021 at 10:32 pm

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