The story of two mothers and a father in love with the same daughter, Samuel Shem's At the Heart of the Universe is an epic novel set deep in rural China against the backdrop of an ancient mountain monastery during the time of the one-child-per-family policy. Inspired by the author's experiences as parent of an adopted child, it describes the drama of adoption and the journey of loss and rebirth that can happen when a daughter brings together her adopted mother and father with her birth mother high on a mountaintop.
Set in 1991 in Changsha, capital of Hunan province, as a Chinese woman abandons her one-month-old daughter in a pile of celery in a busy market, and then shifting to Changsha ten years later as the daughter returns with her adopted American parents, the story moves across southern China until, high atop Emei San, one of China's "sacred mountains" with a Buddhist temple, the four are brought together in the wilderness—a perilous and explosive time that unleashes their heartbreak and suffering and, remarkably, transcends it to shared compassion, and new beginnings.
Praise for At the Heart of the Matter:
"A gorgeous novel set against the backdrop of the Chinese mountains, a hauntingly univer- sal account of loss, gain, and new beginnings.”- Bill McKibben, author The End of Nature
“A moving story full of understanding and psychological intensity. This large-hearted novel reaffirms the necessity of empathy, self-discovery, and love.”- Ha Jin, author of Waiting and A Map of Betrayal
“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.” - Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone.
“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.” - James Carroll, author Warburg in Rome
"A powerful, gripping, tour-de-force. A story that will stay with you forever, unforgettable characters and vivid writing that brings China alive from Changsha City to the sacred Mount Emei. One of the very best books I've ever read, and fallen in love with.” - Francis Moore Lappe, author Diet for a Small Planet and Ecomind
"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.” - Shilpi Somaya Gowda, NYT bestselling author of Secret Daughter