Little Fires Everywhere novelist Celeste Ng wrote her third novel during the COVID-19 pandemic as anti-Asian hate violence flared up. What was happening in the world affected her writing, she told the co-anchors on CBS Mornings this week.
“That became a really big part of it, especially after the outbreak of COVID started and we started seeing a huge rise in anti-Asian hate,” she said in the interview with Jericka Duncan, Nate Burleson, and Tony Dokoupil about her new book, Our Missing Hearts, which is out now from Penguin Random House‘s Penguin Press.
The story centers on a 12-year-old boy who embarks on a journey to find his mother, a Chinese American poet whose writings have been banned over claims of being unpatriotic and being outside “American culture.” In this dystopian novel, writers of color, especially those of Asian descent, and their works are disappearing.
“Growing up as a Chinese American—I’m from Cleveland—I think I’ve known my whole life that I’m seen as other by other people and the way other people see me is not the way I know myself to be inside,” said Celeste, whose 2014 debut novel Everything I Never Told You made her a rising literary star. “And seeing that play out in the news with Asian people just being attacked on the street in the middle of the day really made it important for me to try to talk about some of that in the book.”
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a wave of anti-Asian hate in 2020 after the potentially fatal virus was discovered in China.
Current events inspired the dystopian events described in her book, Celeste said, adding what was happening in today’s world naturally crept into the work.
“It’s a world that I think is really governed by fear. There’s a lot of distrust of other people,” she said of her book. “And it’s a world in which if you are acting un-American, your children can be taken away. And, so, it’s a world in which I think the characters have to make some really hard choices and again figure out how they’re going to raise their children to still survive in this world.”
She felt “useless and helpless” during the pandemic wondering if going to medical school would’ve made a difference since she could’ve treated patients, she said.
“As a writer, what am I doing? Am I helping the world at all?” she said. “But I realized one of the things that was getting me through was reading my favorite poems, listening to music that I love, watching movies that I love, that reminded me of what the world could be. The world wasn’t always like this. It’s not always going to be like this. We can make a difference. And I think that’s one of the things art can do. It can give us hope for the future.”