The Big Moose Prize Winner


ISBN: 978-1-62557-151-9
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The Forest for the Trees

Publication Date: September 2024


Winner of the 2023 Big Moose Prize

A dark comedy about a clash of cultures and generations, a biracial coming-of-age story, and a psychological thriller about inherited trauma from an award-winning writer and début filmmaker. The year: 1959. The place: suburban New York City. When Chinese businessman Leo Lin loses his livelihood, his Caucasian American wife Margaret replaces him as sole breadwinner, creating a cascade of domestic crises that mirrors the Cold War raging between the United States and Communist China. Their oldest daughter Prudence elopes.  Denise, the middle daughter, escapes into French literature and her prophetic imagination. Lorraine, the youngest, takes refuge in the Catholic Church and the Mickey Mouse Club. But it is when Leo’s fresh off the boat mother Nai-nai comes to live with them that the family unit threatens to rupture. The final blow is delivered by Leo’s imperious father Guoxin who reveals a terrible secret that has kept him prisoner of his past and all the Lins hostage to his unremitting sense of guilt and shame. The Forest for the Trees alternates between chapters of a novel and scenes of its adaptation as a screenplay, offering the reader a hybrid experience as well as a liminal approach to understanding the book’s all-too-human characters torn between family duty and personal desire.


Is Lucinda Wu a grave robber or a “grave gifter”? This genre-crossing novel proves uproarious and poignant as it tackles culture, love, family secrets, and their commodification, but also provocative.

– Gish Jen, author of Thank You, Mr. Nixon and The Resisters

In Leslie Li’s deeply felt, tightly woven hybrid novel—part prose, part screenplay—a multi-generational Chinese-Czechoslovakian-American family in 1959 learns that sometimes the world has to fall apart in order to come back together again. If you’ve ever struggled to be true to yourself while also honoring your family, don’t miss this book.

– Will Allison, author of What You Have Left and Long Drive Home

Writing in a hybrid form, Leslie Li seamlessly advances the plot even as she transitions from one mode to another. Strong emotions and grand acts (both laudable and shameful) power The Forest for the Trees. The narrative compresses three generations of family history into one difficult year in the life of a Chinese-American family, whose members are struggling to locate themselves amid competing and conflicting cultural, economic, religious, and personal value systems.
– Debra Spark, author of Discipline

Leslie Li’s moving novel probes the true complexity of relationships that dare to straddle conflicting loyalties and traditions. Although set more than fifty years ago, this innovative portrait of a Chinese-American family divided by race, ethnicity, culture, and traumatic history–but united by deep, if troubled, love–rings truer than ever in today’s polarized world.
-Aimee Liu, author of Cloud Mountain and Glorious Boy

This book was such an intriguing read—I identified with all of the characters. The story speaks volumes about Chinese Immigrants landing on new soil, reluctant to embrace their new environment. It mirrors the many family dynamics I grew up with as an American-born, first-generation child watching my friends’ immigrant parents slowly assimilating through their children who were born in the landed country. The scene with Nai-nai yelling to stop the car came right out of my own experience. Just like Nai-nai, my mother yelled at the top of her lungs to stop the car in the middle of our Seattle neighborhood when she saw—growing wild, bountiful and free—gow gay!!! Instead of the Land of the Gold Mountain (Gim San), for her, America could have been the Land of Abundant Gow Gay! A thoroughly enjoyable read.
— Lori Tan Chinn, actor, Kung Fu Panda 4 and Awkwafina Is Hangin’ With Grandma

The Forest for the Trees is a genre-bending treat, both playful and hard-hitting, funny and insightful. Leslie Li’s characters wrestle with painful questions of loyalty—to each other, to previous generations, to nations and codes of conduct—while they garden and tap dance and give the exact wrong performance at a birthday dinner. This is a multigenerational family drama neatly tucked inside a swift-moving, delightful novel inside a movie inside a novel.

– Caitlin Horrocks, author of Life Among the Terranauts

About the Author

Leslie Li

Leslie Li is the author of the novel Bittersweet (Tuttle Publishing), the culinary memoir Daughter of Heaven (Arcade Publishing), and Just Us Girls (Four Seasons Press), the official companion book to her forthcoming feature-length documentary, The Kim Loo Sisters, currently in post-production. Her awards include the 2023 Big Moose Prize, a Tennessee Williams Scholarship in Fiction, and grants from the Freeman Foundation, New York State Council for the Arts, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and the Chinese Heritage Foundation. The Kim Loo Sisters was one of the five finalists in The Paley Center for Media Doc Pitch in 2015 and was given private preview screenings in Washington, DC, Chicago, New York, the Twin Cities, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Boston. Her personal essays and feature articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Gourmet, Saveur, Travel & Leisure, Garden Design, Modern Maturity, Dorothy Parker’s Ashes, and other print and online publications. Her début novel and culinary memoir have been translated into five languages. She lives in New York City.

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