Transoceanic Lights


Transoceanic Lights

2016 National Book Foundation ‘5 Under 35 Award’ Winner

Leapfrog Fiction Contest Semifinalist; Asheville Award Finalist; Willow Books Literature Award Finalist

Listen to S.Li reading an excerpt at the National Book Foundation Celebration

Transoceanic Lights chronicles the hardships of a Chinese family after immigrating to the US. The overbearing mother must reconcile the immensity of her sacrifice in the midst of a deteriorating marriage. Her only solace is the distant promise of a better life for her son, who spends his days in school longing for the comfort of his homeland. This is a novel about familial love and discord, the strains of displacement, and the elusive nature of the American Dream.

“Here they come, fresh off the flight from China: The father, Ba, the mother, Ma, and their only child, unnamed; we’ll call him Son. Son is 5, the same age the Chinese-American author was on his arrival in the U.S.; the novel has a strong autobiographical flavor.”



Transoceanic Lights

by S. Li

Three hopeful families from post-Mao China immigrate to the US
Genre: Multicultural, Suspense, Family, Asian
Release date: March 2, 2015 - 5 x 8 paperbk; Price: $15.88
ISBN: 978-1-941861-99-8
October 15, 2016 - 4.37 x 7 paperbk; ISBN: 978-1-941861-33-2


“Transoceanic Lights is perhaps the biggest surprise on the ‘5 Under 35’ list, and it’s the only book published by a small press. It follows a family of Chinese immigrants struggling to adjust to life in the U.S. The story line parallels Li’s own history: H left China when he was five. Li earned a medical degree before publishing his first novel, putting him in the ranks of many other doctors-turned-writers, including Abraham Verghese and Ethan Canin.”

MPR News


“Ma’s childbirth scene is a killer. The full account . . . should be enough to make any of us swear off having sex, much less fabricating babies, forever and forever, amen.”

The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities

“When Li focuses his narrative on the several tensions that threaten to tear the narrator’s family apart, the novel makes for absorbing reading. Li also has an admirable linguistic command, an ability to spin out lovely descriptions and fresh, memorable metaphors. The precision and beauty of this description works on both sensory and emotional levels….a tender and persuasive portrait of Chinese-American immigration in the post-Mao era.”

Pleiades Book Review


“What Li accomplishes, as Lahiri and others have done before, is to put in stark relief the continuing social, emotional, and psychological consequences of the Faustian bargain struck when making the decision to leave one’s country to come to another [. . .]. Li is not afraid to say that such bargains are not only fraught with difficulty, but also sometimes doomed to failure. Nor is any failure the result of some simplified notion of a lack of will to succeed (a quintessentially Western notion). Sometimes, the cognitive dissonance is simply too great to overcome – but, sometimes, the details are simply in the journey.”

Portland Book Review

“Li gestures to the importance of extended kinship systems—riddled as they are with issues related to jealousy and favoritism—to help support immigrants in times of trouble.”

Asian American Literature Fans


“Li creates tension with such conflicting imagery [and] examines the heart of the American experiment from an outsider’s point of view…. The rapidly deteriorating inter-family relationship mirrors the evermore fragile relationship between the narrator’s iron-willed mother and shady father. Li’s writing style is dense, great detail given to mundane objects and sights…this rush of imagery and imagination mimics the onslaught and confusion of a child in a strange land.”

The Broadkill Review


“Labels do not adequately describe the high quality of writing, subtlety of construction, or fresh look at the subject. The writing is remarkable for its lack of self-pity. The style is fluent. It surprises, in the way a reader likes to be surprised, takes chances, and fits the story the way a seasoned novelist suits the word to the action. The shifting points of view move the story effectively. The sense of place is marvelous. I doubt there will be many better published this year. Let me be the first to welcome a serious new talent to the room.”

Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene


“Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina with “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Fast forward 100 or so years later to a far different setting than imperialist Russia, to the humble origins of an immigrant Chinese family in Boston, and you’ll be in the territory ofTransoceanic Lights [. . .]. Li has written a mature work with an intense quality that provides a rarely seen aspect of the Asian American experience. S. Li is a singular contribution to the immigrant narrative and a necessary new voice to the growing genre of Asian American literature.”


“The style is fluent. It surprises, in the way a reader likes to be surprised, takes chances, and fits the story the way a seasoned novelist suits the word to the action.”

The Somerville Times


“The characters are well developed, and the emotions are so intensely described that we live the book!”

—Roberto Mattos, Books and Movies: Reviews


Transoceanic Lights digs deep into the emotions of love, anger, loss, betrayal, and compassion as the families discover their place in a new country. Ma and Ba offer such psychological tension. This novel is a page-turner, a must read!”

—Gloria Mindock, editor of Červená Barva Press

“The portrayal of childhood is brilliant. The characters are as vivid as if they were our own relatives. The writing is nuanced, intelligent, lyrical, sensuous. S. Li has much to teach us about other cultures and the art of the novel. A very fine novel indeed.”

—Luke Salisbury, author of Hollywood and Sunset


About the Author




S. Li was born in Guangzhou, China in 1984 and moved to the US in 1989. He graduated with an A.B. in Biochemical Sciences from Harvard in 2006 and an M.D. from the University of Massachusetts in 2010. He lives in Boston. Transoceanic Lights is his first novel.

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