Stay True: A Memoir (Hardcover)
New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu has written a coming-into-adulthood memoir that is rare and distinct–a feat not easy to accomplish. As the son of Taiwanese immigrants, Hsu grew up with the pressure of fulfilling family expectations. And yet…he meets Ken in college, and they bond over cigarettes, car rides, and comparing class notes, each helping the other to figure out the life they want to live. Until Ken is killed in a carjacking, and suddenly everything changes. In this memoir, Hsu, with the benefit of hindsight, explores all the unimaginable ways that this tragedy was formative for him. -Rick— From Fall Booknotes 2022
From the New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu, a gripping memoir on friendship, grief, the search for self, and the solace that can be found through art.
“This book is exquisite and excruciating and I will be thinking about it for years and years to come.” —Rachel Kushner, two-time National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author of The Flamethrowers and The Mars Room
In the eyes of eighteen-year-old Hua Hsu, the problem with Ken—with his passion for Dave Matthews, Abercrombie & Fitch, and his fraternity—is that he is exactly like everyone else. Ken, whose Japanese American family has been in the United States for generations, is mainstream; for Hua, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, who makes ’zines and haunts Bay Area record shops, Ken represents all that he defines himself in opposition to. The only thing Hua and Ken have in common is that, however they engage with it, American culture doesn’t seem to have a place for either of them.
But despite his first impressions, Hua and Ken become friends, a friendship built on late-night conversations over cigarettes, long drives along the California coast, and the successes and humiliations of everyday college life. And then violently, senselessly, Ken is gone, killed in a carjacking, not even three years after the day they first meet.
Determined to hold on to all that was left of one of his closest friends—his memories—Hua turned to writing. Stay True is the book he’s been working on ever since. A coming-of-age story that details both the ordinary and extraordinary, Stay True is a bracing memoir about growing up, and about moving through the world in search of meaning and belonging.
About the Author
HUA HSU is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a professor of Literature at Bard College. Hsu serves on the executive board of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. He was formerly a fellow at the New America Foundation and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center at the New York Public Library. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his family.
A MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK: The New York Times, Boston Globe, New York Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Vogue, LitHub, The Millions, BookPage, and Kirkus
“Quietly wrenching. . . To say that this book is about grief or coming-of-age doesn’t quite do it justice; nor is it mainly about being Asian American, even though there are glimmers of that too. . . This is a memoir that gathers power through accretion — all those moments and gestures that constitute experience, the bits and pieces that coalesce into a life. . . Hsu is a subtle writer, not a showy one; the joy of Stay True sneaks up on you, and the wry jokes are threaded seamlessly throughout.” —The New York Times
"An evolutionary step for Asian American literature." —New York Magazine
“Hua Hsu offers, with seeming effortless grace and lucidity. . .a map to his soul’s becoming. He shows how he constructed an armor against the injustices of the world, one made only of porousness and transparency, the only armor worth donning. This kind and degree of sharing is a rare gift.” —Jonathan Lethem, National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author of Motherless Brooklyn
"Deep feelings coursed through me as I read Hua Hsu's story: Grief, nostalgia, pity, terror, mercy…Stay True is a crucial, sense-making, healing book." —Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Woman Warrior
"I was softly heartbroken by Stay True, which is an elegy not just for a friend but for so much else that feels lost and irreplaceable—a time of tender idleness and unmediated presence, a way that it was once possible to be young. The things that make Hua Hsu’s writing so singular—his searching grace, his rigorous sensitivity, his ability to make a living world out of the seemingly liminal—crystallize in this once-in-a-lifetime book." —Jia Tolentino, New York Times bestselling author of Trick Mirror
"In this elegant, open-hearted elegy for his fallen friend, Hsu does the labor of love, of taking time to recall and make record of the quotidian detail of another man's life. In this way, he reveals for us all how aesthetics are products of both relationships and of terrible loss. The river of this memoir is quiet and deep, unassuming, it enters the reader and changes us with its capacity for connection." —Sarah Schulman, author of Let the Record Show
“'I was a storyteller with a plot twist guaranteed to astound and destroy,’ Hua Hsu says of himself, in a tone that is slightly ironic. And yet what he has achieved in Stay True is exactly that: to astound and destroy his reader. This book is exquisite and excruciating and I will be thinking about it for years and years to come.” —Rachel Kushner, two-time National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author of The Flamethrowers and The Mars Room
"Hua Hsu’s Stay True is a rich, intelligent, and beautifully crafted portrait of just about everything that matters in life. Here is friendship, art, and family cast against a distinctly American backdrop of migration in language so precise and subtle that you might not even notice how it breaks and mends your heart." —Dinaw Mengestu, author of All Our Names
"In crafting Stay True, Hua Hsu has opted to trust the consequential size of memories shared with Ken over what we readers feel we are owed. The result is one of the finest memoirs I've ever read." —Kiese Laymon, New York Times bestselling author of Heavy
“A moving portrait of friends, death, doubt, and everything in between. . . Hsu writes with tenderness but scorching precision. . . Genuinely one of the most moving portraits of friendship to have come out in recent years.” —The Nation
“A coming-of-age story, perhaps unlike any other I’ve come across from an Asian American writer. . . Undeniably fun, a testament to the feverish joy only young people can find in shooting the shit. While it hits at several themes—the Asian American experience, trauma, and the funny mechanics of memory—Stay True is perfumed with a distinct promise throughout, the glow that comes with knowing that you’ve met your tribe.” —Mother Jones
"New Yorker staff writer Hsu braids music, art, and philosophy in his extraordinary debut. . .Hsu parses the grief of losing his friend and eloquently captures the power of friendship and unanswerable questions spurred in the wake of senseless violence. The result is at once a lucid snapshot of life in the nineties, an incredible story of reckoning, and a moving elegy to a fallen friend." —Publishers Weekly *starred review*
"Stay True feels like one of those books that is the sum total of a writer’s life in thinking, craft, and curiosity, made felt at last, so that when the sentences come, they come with a deliberate, patient, and precise force. Hsu takes on the central theme of a friend’s violent loss and casts from that void a story that, somehow, despite the hurt and confusion, embraces the world around it with a steady and capacious centrifugal force. This is the endeavor of writing at its most open, meticulous, forgiving and tender—which is to say, this is writing at its best." —Ocean Vuong, New York Times bestselling author of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
"Hua Hsu's astonishing new memoir. . .explores the faultiness of memory and how grief can reorient a friend group. But more singularly, Stay True is about the beautiful, unpredictable alchemy of how friendship—particularly male friendship—forms in the first place." —GQ
“Moving. . . Wondrous. . . [Hsu is] an exceptional writer. . . One of his philosopher heroes, Jacques Derrida, was resistant to eulogy, Hsu notes, because ‘[i]t’s always about “me” rather than “we.”’ If the author needed all these years to find a way to avoid that hazard, it was worth the wait. . . This book is a paean to the Bay Area in the 1990s, and to the uncertainties of anyone who is just trying to fit in. It’s also, in its own quiet way, an act of kindness.” —The San Francisco Chronicle Datebook
“I’ve never read so perfect a description of collegiate friendship as the scenes in Stay True in which Hsu recalls the long days and nights spent with his friends. . . [Stay True] is about grief [but also] it is an exploration of what friendship means, and how it can mean different things from relationship to relationship.” —Slate
“[Stay True] elevates the entire [memoir] genre with a kind of athletic ease. . . I'm always obsessed with how tightly engineered Hsu's writing is—as elegant and seamless as the rivets of a submarine—and it’s nothing short of delightful to see his prose deployed in such a personal investigation on the pains of being pure at heart.” —Vanity Fair
"Masterfully structured and exquisitely written. Hsu’s voice shimmers with tenderness and vulnerability as he meticulously reconstructs his memories of a nurturing, compassionate friendship. The protagonists’ Asian American identities are nuanced, never serving as the defining element of the story, and the author creates a cast of gorgeously balanced characters. A stunning, intricate memoir about friendship, grief, and memory.” —Kirkus Reviews *starred review*
“One of the finest and most heart-rending remembrances I’ve ever read. Hsu writes about grief and nostalgia, youth and identity, family and friendship, with elegant, heartbreaking clarity. I wanted to linger over every memory, to stay with Hsu as he rendered the vast expanses of time that defined youth—car rides, browsing at record stores, collaging together an identity from loves and hates. This is a book of exquisite pain and beauty. Absolutely unmissable.” —Literary Hub, "Most Anticipated Books of 2022"
“The brilliant New Yorker staff writer. . .describes a formative friendship he had as a young man in the Bay Area—a friendship formed around what the two young men had in common and what they didn’t.” —The Millions, “Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2022 Book Preview”
“In every luminously rereadable, every-way-wending sentence, [Hsu’s] writing astonishes. On the shaky formation of the self, it is unself-conscious; on the incredible youthful desire to make oneself known, it is knowing. Exploring identity, authenticity, and nostalgia as concepts and as feelings, this is an absolute stunner.” —Booklist *starred review*
“In his moving memoir Stay True. . .the New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu portrays, and in one section addresses, a companion from his youth who has stayed with him in absentia.” —Claire Messud, Harper’s
“Lovely, low-key. . . A moving portrait of a persona undone by tragedy.” —Vogue.com, "The Best Books To Read This Fall"
“This bittersweet memoir [is] a reflection on the power of friendship and how we can find connection in the most unexpected of places.” —Time Magazine, “33 Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2022”
"Hsu, a brilliant. . .cultural critic on staff at the New Yorker, traces how he came to think about music and community, from his Cupertino childhood through college. . . Struggling with grief, he found power in writing things down." —The Los Angeles Times
“Affecting. . . Sincere, funny, wistful—the phrase ‘stay true’ reflects the tone of the book and also its goal: to honestly remember a lost friend.” —The AV Club
"At its core, Stay True is a memoir of a friendship—of any friendship: what we learn from others, what we give in exchange, and how it gives shape to the story we tell ourselves of ourselves.” —Electric Lit
“This is a snapshot of a seemingly unlikely friendship in California in the ’90s. Hua’s detailed journals from the time and his lyrical writing make it feel like you are right beside him and Ken as they contend with the otherness projected onto them by mainstream American society, have late night discussions, and just figure out who they want to be.” —BookRiot
“[A] gentle, tragic memoir. . . So many of Hsu’s descriptions are made poignant by their photographic quality.” —Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism
"Not since Ann Patchett wrote about her friend Lucy Grealy in Truth and Beauty has there been such an achingly tender book about a platonic friendship.” —Los Angeles Times, "10 books to add to your reading list in September"
"Gut-wrenching and beautifully written, Stay True is an unforgettable story about grief, identity, and the indelible mark a friendship can leave on our lives.” —Real Simple
“Remarkable. . . Stay True is a questing exploration of the elusive nature of friendship as it shifts and reshapes with the passage of time.” —BookPage
“A near-perfect time capsule of Berkeley from 1995 to 1999, this vivid, shattering memoir knocked me out. . . more than 20 years later, [Hsu] gets it all down, with uncanny power, onto the page here.” —Anita Felicelli, Alta
“Stay True is a gripping memoir about holding on to memories of loved ones and growing up without them.” —BuzzFeed