Opus Exclusive: Jean Kwok

We’re so thrilled that Jean Kwok will join us for this year’s Opus & Olives. In preparation for the big event, we asked Jean a few questions to help fans get to know her better. This is an #opusexclusive.

Tell us something that people might not know about you. 

I’m a first-generation Chinese immigrant and we were extremely poor when I was a child. We lived in a vermin-infested apartment in Brooklyn that didn’t have a working central heating system and I worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for most of my childhood. I remember the inside of the windowpanes were covered with ice throughout the winters and I would melt them with my bluing fingers.  

What is something you’re proud of about your book and why? 

The Leftover Woman is a deeply personal book for me. It is about two mothers, two worlds and one impossible choice. A young Chinese woman mourns after being told her baby died shortly after birth, but when she learns that her daughter had actually been given away by her husband to be adopted by a wealthy American couple, she follows them to New York to get her child back.  

I knew of the many ways the one-child policy devastated families in China. I always understood that one day, I would write this novel, and I’m proud that the book is both a thrilling read and engages with many issues that are relevant today. It’s filled with twists and turns, involving a murder, a young woman trying to recover her lost daughter, and love that blossoms in the most unexpected of places. Ultimately, it is a celebration of our ability to learn and change despite our flaws, and the qualities we have in common instead of the issues that drive us apart.  

Tell us what you love about libraries. 

My public library saved me as a child. I didn’t speak a word of English when I first started going there but it was a place that became both a physical and mental refuge for me. My library was warm and clean, in contrast to our freezing apartment and the dust-filled clothing factory I worked in, and more than that, it was filled with friendly librarians and books. It was my favorite place in the whole world.  

I learned to read at my library. Every book I owned as a child was given to me as a part of the literacy programs at my public library. The librarians recommended books that opened up entire new worlds to me. I can honestly say that I would not have become the person I am today—a Harvard graduate, an internationally-bestselling author— without my public library or the librarians who worked there.  

Meet Jean and the rest of our bestselling lineup in person on October 8 at the RiverCentre in downtown Saint Paul!