Book Reviews

All That’s Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien: ARC Book Review

This is a spoiler-free review.

All That’s Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien

Expected publication September 13th, 2022 by William Morrow & Company.

My rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

For fans of Everything I Never Told You and The Mothers, a deeply moving and unflinching debut following a young Vietnamese-Australian woman who returns home to her family in the wake of her brother’s shocking murder, determined to discover what happened–a dramatic exploration of the intricate bonds and obligations of friendship, family, and community.

Just let him go. These are the words Ky Tran will forever regret. The words she spoke when her parents called to ask if they should let her younger brother Denny out to celebrate his high school graduation with friends. That night, Denny–optimistic, guileless, brilliant Denny–is brutally murdered inside a busy restaurant in the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta, a refugee enclave facing violent crime, an indifferent police force, and the worst heroin epidemic in Australian history.

Returning home to Cabramatta for the funeral, Ky learns that the police are stumped by Denny’s case: a dozen people were at Lucky 8 restaurant when Denny died, but each of the bystanders claim to have seen nothing.

Desperately hoping that understanding what happened might ease her suffocating guilt, Ky sets aside her grief and determines to track down the witnesses herself. With each encounter, she peels back another layer of the place that shaped her and Denny, exposing the seeds of violence that were planted well before that fateful celebration dinner: by colonialism, by the war in Vietnam, and by the choices they’ve all made to survive.

Alternating between Ky’s voice and the perspectives of the witnesses, Tracey Lien’s extraordinary debut is at once heart-pounding and heart-rending as it probes the intricate bonds of friendship, family, and community through an unforgettable cast of characters, all connected by a devastating crime. Combining evocative family drama and gripping suspense, All That’s Left Unsaid is a profound and moving page turner, perfect for readers of Liz Moore, Brit Bennett, and Celeste Ng.

Thank you to the publisher, HarperCollins Canada, for sending me an ARC of this book. All thoughts are my own.

All That’s Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien is one unique debut. Part literary fiction, part mystery… All That’s Left Unsaid is a hard book to tie down to one particular genre.

While on the outset it hooked me in with its unsolved murder – who killed Denny? And how did no one see it? – it kept my attention, not so much by my need to find out that answer, but by the story Lien wove – and Ky uncovered – of how Denny ended up dead in the first place. What set of circumstances – both his own and those of the people around him – led to Denny’s ultimate death.

It’s clear through this narrative that it wasn’t solely Denny’s actions alone that resulted in that devastating night. But a culmination of many different people’s actions spanning many different years. So many seemingly unrelated decisions somehow entwined together to bring about the exact set of circumstances that would wind up with Denny Tran dead. As Ky begins to unravel the different threads of evidence and starts to probe at the alibis of the unseeing witnesses present for Denny’s murder, the greater this story delves into the experiences of the other residences of Cabramatta – the Sydney suburb where many Vietnamese refugees found themselves in the ’90s – and the immigrant experience itself.

Lien creates such a rich, immersive experience with this novel. Entrenched in the streets of Cabramatta in the 1990s, All That’s Left Unsaid feels like a deeply personal read. And, nevertheless, it also feels timeless. Maybe it’s that fact that so many of the issues touched upon in this story – racism, xenophobia, and poverty – continue to have widespread prevalence and long-reaching impacts to this day. Either way, Lien does the almost impossible and creates a story that feels acutely rooted in the culture it chronicles, and also limitless in its reach.

Have you read All That’s Left Unsaid?

What did you think of it?

Let me know!

Liza is a twenty-something book blogger who spends way too much time with her nose in books and feels way too much. She loves cooking, baking, reality tv show watching and, of course, reading. She can be found most often with a cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other. Her blog, Literary Liza, features bookish content like reviews, recommendations, and author interviews.


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