Named one of the Best Books of 2018 by:
- New York Times critics
- Wall Street Journal
- Kirkus Reviews
- Christian Science Monitor
- San Francisco Chronicle
Finalist for the PEN Jacqueline Bograd Weld Biography Award
Shortlisted for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize
The deeply reported story of one indelible family transplanted from rural China to New York City, forging a life between two worlds
In 2014, in a snow-covered house in Flushing, Queens, a village revolutionary from Southern China considered his options. Zhuang Liehong was the son of a fisherman, the former owner of a small tea shop, and the spark that had sent his village into an uproar - pitting residents against a corrupt local government. Under the alias Patriot Number One, he had stoked a series of pro-democracy protests, hoping to change his home for the better. Instead, sensing an impending crackdown, Zhuang and his wife, Little Yan, left their infant son with relatives and traveled to America. With few contacts and only a shaky grasp of English, they had to start from scratch.
In Patriot Number One, Hilgers follows this dauntless family through a world hidden in plain sight: a byzantine network of employment agencies and language schools, of underground asylum brokers and illegal dormitories that Flushing’s Chinese community relies on for survival. As the irrepressibly opinionated Zhuang and the more pragmatic Little Yan pursue legal status and struggle to reunite with their son, we also meet others piecing together a new life in Flushing. Tang, a democracy activist who was caught up in the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, is still dedicated to his cause after more than a decade in exile. Karen, a college graduate whose mother imagined a bold American life for her, works part-time in a nail salon as she attends vocational school, and refuses to look backward.
With a novelist’s eye for character and detail, Hilgers captures the joys and indignities of building a life in a new country - and the stubborn allure of the American dream.
“Rich and absorbing.... A penetrating profile of a man and much more besides: an indelible portrait of his wife and their marriage; a canny depiction of Flushing, Queens; a lucid anatomy of Chinese politics and America’s immigration system.... Hilgers observes all this with a sharp eye and an open heart.... As evocative and engrossing as a novel.” (New York Times)
“A superb account of Chinese immigrants in America... Stealing the show is Zhuang, irrepressible, quixotic, an endlessly scheming operator who finds his calling in activism.... [Patriot Number One] tells a powerful human story about America and the world in 2018.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Excellent...a well-researched, informative look at the realities of Chinese immigration. It also depicts one man’s battle to figure out who he is.” (Wall Street Journal)