The Leavers

The Leavers Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back in the present, Polly watches as Yong prepares to deliver an acceptance speech at the Fuzhou Business Leaders Forum, where he’ll be receiving an award that night. In his address, he talks about coming from “humble beginnings,” but Polly finds this inauthentic, since Yong never truly suffered in poverty. When she points this out, he tells her that everybody always talks about coming from poverty when they receive business awards. While he practices, Polly receives a call from Deming, and she tells Yong that it’s a business call. Stepping out, she goes into another room and locks the door. Several minutes later, Yong finds her and asks her if she’ll listen to his speech, so she hangs up and emerges from the locked room, feeling guilty because Yong is so unsuspicious of her.
Now that the novel is back in the narrative present, Ko explores the beginning of Polly and Daniel’s rekindled relationship. Although they’re finally talking again, it’s clear that there are a number of factors keeping them from establishing a strong bond. Not only do they live across the world from one another, but Polly has built an entirely new identity, presenting herself as someone who has never had a child. As such, she has to keep the truth about Daniel from Yong, a secret that puts a strain on her relationship with her son, since it prevents her from talking to him whenever he calls. In turn, their correspondence becomes clandestine and all the more complicated, making it that much harder for them to reestablish a genuine connection.
Themes
Cultural Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
Polly saves Deming’s name in her contacts. Each time they talk, they tell each other about their lives, though Deming never asks why she left. Polly likes it this way, since the only person she’s talked to about why and how she left America is Leon. “Telling Yong would ruin everything,” she notes in her narration. “There were still nights I would wake up thinking of the concrete floor, the Styrofoam bowls of lukewarm oatmeal—I couldn’t look at oatmeal now; I’d never eat it again—and the din of hundreds of women talking in different languages.” In her narration, Polly points out that—unlike Leon or Vivian—she’s the only person who didn’t purposefully abandon Deming. For this reason, she hates the idea of Deming calling Kay “Mama,” though she knows she can’t bring this up.
As Polly and Deming speak on the phone, they both avoid discussing why she left. However, her narration in this section provides snapshots of what happened to her in the aftermath of her disappearance. The fact that she mentions “the din of hundreds of women talking in different languages” suggests that she was taken to some sort of detainment center. Given that this sounds like a traumatic experience, it makes sense that she’s so hesitant to talk about what happened to her. Unfortunately, Deming doesn’t know this yet, so he still thinks she abandoned him voluntarily.
Themes
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon
At the awards ceremony, Yong tells his colleagues that he and Polly are going to Hong Kong for vacation, though they don’t actually have plans to do so. Afterwards, Deming calls while Polly is in the bathroom, and Yong sees his name on her phone. When she comes to bed, he asks, “So, who’s Deming?” Quickly, Polly lies, claiming he’s a colleague who’s currently traveling in another time zone, which is why he’s calling so late. When they turn off the lights, though, she decides to tell him the truth. “I have a son and I lost him,” she says, explaining that she was deported. “I left him in America, because I couldn’t take him back to China with me, and then he was adopted by an American family.” At first, Yong can’t believe that she would leave her own son, but then he takes her hand and—to her surprise—holds it tight.
In this scene, Polly finally tells Yong about Deming. At first, she tries to lie her way out of the conversation, thinking that telling him the truth will profoundly change the way he sees her. This would be devastating, since she has spent so much time building her new identity and putting the past behind her. However, she decides to take a risk, not wanting to continue hiding from her own husband. As such, she lets her two worlds collide.
Themes
Cultural Identity and Belonging Theme Icon
Parenthood, Support, and Expectations Theme Icon