A Thread of Sky: A Novel

a video introduction to A Thread of Sky

How does a strong woman learn to let go?


Looking to reconnect with their ancestral home and with one another, three generations of women tour mainland China on a journey that will change their family forever

A stunning debut, A Thread of Sky is the story of a family of six fiercely independent women and the powerful thread that binds their lives.

When her husband of thirty years is killed in a devastating accident, Irene Shen and her three daughters are set adrift. Nora, the eldest, retreats into her high-powered New York job and a troubled relationship. Kay, the headstrong middle child, escapes to China to learn the language and heritage of her parents. Sophie, the sensitive and artistic youngest, is trapped at home until college, increasingly estranged from her family—and herself. Terrified of being left alone with her grief, Irene plans a tour of mainland China’s must-sees, reuniting three generations of women—her three daughters, her distant poet sister, and her formidable eighty-year-old mother—in a desperate attempt to heal her fractured family.

If only it were so easy. Each woman arrives bearing secrets big and small, and as they travel—visiting untouched sections of the Great Wall and the seedy bars of Shanghai, the beautiful ancient temples and cold, modern shopping emporiums—they begin to wonder if they will ever find the China they seek, the one their family fled long ago.

Over days and miles they slowly find their way toward a new understanding of themselves, of one another, and of the vast complexity of their homeland, only to have their new bonds tested as never before when the darkest, most carefully guarded secret of all spirals to the surface and threatens to tear their family apart forever.

A Thread of Sky is a beautifully written and deeply haunting story about love and sacrifice, history and memory, sisterhood and motherhood, and the connections that endure.

>Deanna Fei on her writing process and the story behind the book


"Setting a contemporary novel against the backdrop of the historical changes sweeping across China as the country moves from stark repression to a booming capitalist economy would be a challenge for any novelist, much less a first-timer. Fei, a Chinese American who has lived in Beijing and Shanghai, tackles it with ease and great insight.

... Rest assured that when the moment arrives to tie up these threads, Deanna Fei has her readers in the palm of her hand. With tenderness and humor, each of the sisters finds love in a way that opens her eyes to the larger world. This is one of those rare novels that delivers on the promise of its opening pages. This summer, no smart woman should leave on vacation without it.” -Chicago Tribune

“Timeless and of the moment...  A fluent storyteller, Fei entwines this family narrative with harrowing passages about the Rape of Nanjing and the oppression of early Chinese immigrants to America... Squarely and honestly takes on a misunderstood ill—the burden of the so-called model minority.” -New York Times Book Review

“Lin Yulan, a revolutionary and leader of the Chinese feminist movement, reluctantly returns to her homeland after a self-imposed exile for a guided tour of “the new China” with her two daughters and three granddaughters in an effort for the nearly estranged women to reconnect. Each woman arrives in China with her own agenda, and each discovers that some shameful secrets are simply too heavy to bear alone. This powerful, intricately woven first novel is a meditation on grief and recovery, strength and vulnerability, and the urgency to leave one’s mark on the world. A very promising debut.” -IndieBound

"Painterly... Fei's writing is precise and exquisite... The characters are beautifully drawn, every sentence is well crafted and the pace is measured... Most will find this well-shaped story satisfying and its prose a pleasure to savor." -Mostly Fiction

"A Thread of Sky is a first novel that delivers on all that it promises: it’s a family story that explores the connections between generations of women and between the U.S. and China." -The Oregonian

“As stunning and elegant as its cover... Fei's portrait of the family, both as women and Chinese-Americans, is powerful and important, and wonderfully written by one of the most promising voices in contemporary American fiction.”  -Largehearted Boy

“Fei stakes a claim in Amy Tan territory with this satisfying tale.”  -Booklist

“Ambitious... Fei’s novel does not broker to presenting China as an exotic, unchanging landscape, one that can be claimed by the credit card. Rather, it is a complex and shifting space... The novel resolutely moves outside of sentimentalism and resides in a domestic drama that unfolds unceasingly and with admirable restraint. In this regard, A Thread of Sky manages to offer a visually stunning tableau of China’s evolution in the 21st century without shifting into the superficiality of a travelogue, letting the reader’s sense of an already complex geography change as her characters do too. -Feminist Review

“With its mother-daughter conflicts, a feminist message, and an exploration of Chinese roots, this novel will appeal to fans of Amy Tan as well as readers who generally enjoy... Julia Alvarez, Gish Jen, and Gus Lee.” -Library Journal

“There is a moment in A Thread of Sky... in which one of the characters finally confronts her grief over her dead husband, by way of a very mundane act. I’ll resist saying anything more about it; I don’t want to rob other readers of the experience of having their breath taken away by the deep sadness and utter simplicity of the moment. The same passage that knocked the wind out of me also knocked some sense into me. This is what writing is about, I remember thinking: illuminating emotional truths, exploring interesting questions about people and the world—above all, forging a connection with your reader.” -Fiction Writers Review

“Adventurous... a beautifully written book about sacrifice, history and familial connections.... In telling the story of six distinct lives, it traverses the plains of what it means to be an Asian American woman [and] poignantly portrays what it means to search for a home.” -Sidestreet Review

“Fei is a champion of vivid storytelling. Every page of A Thread of Sky is crafted with descriptive words that appeal to readers’ five senses… When the book does reach its climax, readers will find it almost impossible to not finish. Against the backdrop of a country rich in history, ancient temples, untouched sections of the Great Wall and modern bustling streets, personalities clash, personal histories unravel and decisions are regretted. Through her debut novel, Deanna Fei has successfully shown her audience the undeniable power of interpersonal connections, even in moments that make the recovery of a fractured family seem hopeless… With love, sacrifice, family, and identity as the recurring themes, A Thread of Sky is the kind of book you want to read—and reread—to really see what Deanna Fei has so gracefully weaved into her words.” -Jenna Le, Sparks Book Club

"This is a book that really should be read by everyone... One of the best books published in 2010, undoubtedly.” -Late Night Library

"A quality of longing animates this lovely and subtle first novel... It is exhilarating to read a novel about the nature of female ambition; it is far more exhilarating to find that the novelist doing the exploration is as ambitious as they come. Fei’s canvas—a family of feisty women taking a trip together to China—is simple only on its surface. Deeply, A Thread of Sky is a novel about belonging, perfection, cultural pressure, how to leave and what it means to be left behind. Fei’s prose is always careful and at times gorgeous, and her handling of magnificent, mind-boggling contemporary China is deft and sympathetic.” -Lauren Groff, Amherst Magazine

“A Thread of Sky is a lyrical journey through the heart of contemporary China, and the family of women who make the pilgrimage across these pages are as complicated, broad-ranging, and fascinating as the country itself. Deanna Fei is one to watch.”  -Ann Patchett, author of Run and Bel Canto

“A Thread of Sky is a remarkable debut by a gifted young novelist. Deanna Fei is an accomplished writer with keen insight into cross-cultural Chinese-American rootlessness and the ties that bind women of several generations. A wonderful book!” -Anita Shreve, author of A Change in Altitude

“Deanna Fei brilliantly captures the richness, confusion, and contradictions of both China and Asian American identity today in her intimate yet epic novel. Told in gorgeous prose with humor and probing insight, A Thread of Sky illuminates the past even as it grapples with the opportunities and challenges of an uncertain future.” -David Henry Hwang, author of M. Butterfly and Chinglish

A Thread of Sky is a dazzling, heart-pulling debut. With gorgeous lyricism and rare power, Deanna Fei maps an intricate constellation of loss and love that illuminates the lives of three generations of women. The novel is a startling achievement, braided with history and hope and deep empathy, and it introduces readers to one of the most gifted and captivating storytellers of her generation.” -Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Corpus Christi: Stories

“Deanna Fei writes gracefully and with powerful insight and feeling about love and loss, homelands and promised lands, and the various roles of women in family and society. The reader follows her passionately searching characters to China with a brimming heart, and with admiration for a first novelist so full of promise.” -Sigrid Nunez, author of The Last of Her Kind

“This had me at the first page. Fei's debut novel is both intensely enjoyable and, I think, important. This novel charts the cost of that famous Asian silence between generations, as a family takes in the price of it across several generations. But it is also an intimate portrait of that famous 'new China,’ as much of a surprise to Chinese-Americans as it is to the rest of us. Truly a book for our times.” -Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh