The Third Daughter

Vanessa Hua

Not long after I graduated from UC Riverside’s MFA program, I landed an agent who shopped around my novel. It came close to selling—but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. While that process dragged on, ZYZZYVA published an excerpt from that novel as the story “Third Daughter” in 2011. The excerpt reflects the dual timelines in that initial version of the novel: one in 1960s China, and the other in 1970s San Francisco Chinatown. My father was so ecstatic that he purchased a two-year subscription to the magazine, thinking that the editors would publish the rest serially. Eventually, after many revisions and title changes, the novel sold in 2016, in a version that cut most of the Chinatown timeline except for what appears in the prologue and epilogue.

I began writing this book, which would become the novel Forbidden City, in 2007, and I finished the final, final edits late last year, which means I worked on it for fourteen years. With the cycle of publicity, promotion, and events, this book, which will be published by Ballantine Books on April 19, will live even longer in my head. The project ran over the course of about a third of my life, but I needed to write all those other drafts, work on those other stories, to become the writer who could write this one.—Vanessa Hua

The Chairman is dead. Outside, the people of Chinatown are cheering. They light firecrackers and beat pots and pans, chanting as they march three floors below the window of my apartment. Their signs say, “Smash the Emperor!” Drips of paint spoil the sweep and curve of the calligraphy, the characters bleeding as if shot. Shouts
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