The Manicurist's Daughter: A Memoir (Hardcover)
An emotionally raw memoir about the crumbling of the American Dream and a daughter of refugees who searches for answers after her mother dies during plastic surgery.
Susan Lieu has long been searching for answers. About her family’s past and about her own future. Refugees from the Vietnam War, Susan’s family escaped to California in the 1980s after five failed attempts. Upon arrival, Susan’s mother was their savvy, charismatic North Star, setting up two successful nail salons and orchestrating every success—until Susan was eleven. That year, her mother died from a botched tummy tuck. After the funeral, no one was ever allowed to talk about her or what had happened.
For the next twenty years, Susan navigated a series of cascading questions alone—why did the most perfect person in her life want to change her body? Why would no one tell her about her mother’s life in Vietnam? And how did this surgeon, who preyed on Vietnamese immigrants, go on operating after her mother’s death? Sifting through depositions, tracking down the surgeon’s family, and enlisting the help of spirit channelers, Susan uncovers the painful truth of her mother, herself, and the impossible ideal of beauty.
The Manicurist’s Daughter is much more than a memoir about grief, trauma, and body image. It is a story of fierce determination, strength in shared culture, and finding your place in the world.
About the Author
Susan Lieu is a Vietnamese-American author, playwright, and performer who tells stories that refuse to be forgotten. A daughter of nail salon workers, she took her autobiographical solo theatre show 140 LBS: How Beauty Killed My Mother on a 10-city national tour with sold out premieres and accolades from L.A. Times, NPR, and American Theatre. Eight months pregnant, she premiered her sequel OVER 140 LBS as the headliner for ACT Theatre’s SoloFest. Within one year she held 60 performances to over 7,000 people. Her award-winning work has been featured at Bumbershoot, Wing Luke Museum, The Moth Mainstage, On The Boards, The World Economic Forum, RISK!, CAATA ConFest, Viet Film Fest, and she has spoken at more than a dozen universities around the country. She serves as an Artists Up mentor, Artist Trust instructor, “Model Minority Moms” podcaster, and board member for international NGO Asylum Access. As an activist, she worked with Consumer Watchdog to pass a law to raise medical malpractice caps. Susan and her sister co-founded Socola Chocolatier, an artisanal chocolate company based in San Francisco. She is a proud alumna of Harvard College, Yale School of Management, Coro, Hedgebrook, and Vashon Artist Residency. Susan lives with her husband and son in Seattle where they enjoy mushroom hunting, croissants, and big family gatherings. The Manicurist’s Daughter is her first book.
“A stunning, raw, brave memoir that wouldn’t let me go.”
―V (formerly Eve Ensler), author of Reckoning and The Vagina Monologues
"With tenacity, wit, and fierce love, Susan Lieu reconstructs the mother she lost – from memory, through detective work, by spirit conjuring…defying all obstacles and naysayers. A high octane roller coaster to healing."
―Thi Bui, author of The Best We Could Do, an American Book Award winner, a National Book Critics Circle finalist, and an Eisner Award finalist
"The quintessential story of an immigrant's kid―filled to the brim with heartache and hope."
―Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese, a National Book Award finalist and Printz Award winner
“Devastating yet healing, painful yet humorous, epic yet intimate, The Manicurist’s Daughter made my eyes weep yet my heart sing. Susan Lieu astonishes me with her ability to transform pain, fear and anger into healing, freedom and hope. This book is the pathway to peace, an admirable achievement from one of America’s leading diasporic Vietnamese performance artists.”
―Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, international bestselling author of The Mountains Sing, a Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalist, and Dust Child
“Lieu is a dynamo, spouting humor, profanity and wisdom in the same breath.”
—The LA Times (Books for Lunar New Year)
“Lieu’s candor about her mother’s faults (body-shaming chief among them) and righteous anger at the surgeon who killed her set this apart from similar fare. It’s a generous portrait of grief that will touch those who’ve struggled with loss.….a stirring debut.”
“An intimate Asian American memoir about family, memory, and grief.”
"Lieu’s resulting memoir is a stunning feat of investigation, introspection, wit and candor; it braids together family history, grief, body image, food, class, race, and resilience for insight that must not be missed."