March 2024

The Manicurist’s Daughter

By Susan Lieu
In her deeply moving memoir, Susan Lieu tries to find closure after her mother’s untimely death.
Share this Article:

To playwright and performer Susan Lieu, the woman she called M&aacute was “more mystery than mother.” In her deeply moving debut memoir, The Manicurist’s Daughter, Lieu excavates her family history and the painful narratives she’s stubbornly preserved over the years to answer the questions that emerged after her mother’s shocking death in 1996: How can you heal from intergenerational trauma if your family denies its existence?

When Lieu was 11, her family structure collapsed. Lieu’s mother, a dynamic 38-year-old Vietnamese refugee and successful nail salon owner in the Bay Area, went to a plastic surgery clinic for an operation that included an abdominoplasty, or “tummy tuck.” During the procedure, she lost oxygen to her brain, and 14 minutes passed before the surgeon called 911. She spent five days in a coma before flatlining. The surgeon, a white man who didn’t carry liability insurance, had been placed on probation four years before operating on Lieu’s mother, and remained on probation for years after her death. He specifically marketed his services to the Bay Area’s Vietnamese population.

Avoiding displays of grief, Lieu’s family refused to acknowledge the death of her mother, just as they refused to talk about their exodus from Vietnam. The emotional distance between Lieu and her father, who had suddenly become a widower with four children at 42, steadily grew as the years passed. As Lieu navigated adulthood, she struggled to make sense of her mother’s death, and her role as a daughter.

Lieu’s narrative provides a touching tribute to her mother and a probing investigation of destructive beauty standards. With considerable nuance and vulnerability, Lieu carefully deconstructs her own image of her mother as a victim without agency. Her journey to find closure is as vulnerable as an open vein, but eventually leads to a place of acceptance and forgiveness. To feel is to heal, and Lieu’s willingness to embrace emotional honesty, no matter how uncomfortable, is at the heart of The Manicurist’s Daughter.

Trending Reviews

Get the Book

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.