A journey of how we humans can walk with each other through suffering to heal




“A gorgeous novel set against the backdrop of the Chinese mountains, a hauntingly universal account of loss, gain, and new beginnings.”- Bill McKibben, author The End of Nature

“A moving story full of understanding and psychological intensity. This large-hearted novel reaffirms the necessity of empathy, self-discovery, and love.”- Ha Jin, author of Waiting and A Map of Betrayal

New York, NY (November 2, 2016) – Shem, the award-winning, best-selling novelist, playwright, and activist returns with his latest offering, At the Heart of the Universe (Seven Stories Press). This is an epic novel set deep in rural China during the time of Mao’s population control policies. Inspired by his own experiences as the parent of an adopted child from China, Shem masterfully depicts the ups and downs of adoption, and the drama that comes when two opposite ends of the world become inextricably intertwined. The powerful story is a moving exploration of what it means to be a family in this global world and offers a window into a culture that few Westerners have seen.  

When asked how the novel came to be, Shem replied, “At the Heart of the Universe burst into my mind and heart when, ten years after our daughter had been abandoned as a newborn at a police station in Changsha, China, the three of us made a trip back. A voice said to me: you have to write this!  With gratitude I offer At the Heart of the Universe to the world: a universal story of loss, despair, sorrow, suffering–and triumph.  A journey of how we humans can walk with each other through suffering to heal.”

At the Heart of the Universe tells the story of two families intertwined after an international adoption. Due to China’s one-child policy,  Xiao Lu, a young woman from rural southwest China is forced to give up her second child–a one-month old girl.  If only she had given birth to a boy, her in-laws would have paid the fee saying “He’d be worth it. He’d pay for himself many times over.”  But that is not the case. Broken, she takes a bus and train to abandon her daughter in a pile of celery in a rural market in Changsha City, confident that someone would find and care for the child. An American couple adopts the child and, ten years later,  to celebrate Katie Chun’s birthday they return to Changsha in hopes of keeping her Chinese heritage alive and perhaps finding out something about her birth mother. Despite the odds, through chance and persistence, they find Xiao Lu living alone in an forest near a Buddhist Temple, on sacred Mount Emei. At first things go well.  Soon this changes–it’s clear that Xiao Lu wants Katie to stay, and Katie feels a bond with her. The journey turns ominous, with fierce emotional ebbs and flows, always teetering on the edge of failure and sorrow, but ultimately rising to a level of profound acceptance and joy.

Adam Pertman, the President and Founder of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency has said that the book’s “treatment of major issues relating to adoption will certainly appeal to millions of additional members of families formed through adoption from other countries and domestically, and “normalizing” adoption and helping the general public understand this world more accurately.”  Even more so,”this book transcends its most obvious audience and, from the first page, becomes what all good literature aspires to be: a great tale, engagingly written, with universal appeal.”

As part of National Adoption Month, Shem will discuss the novel from 7 to 8:45 p.m. on November 14, 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse, New York City. Joining Shem for this deeply personal evening of story-telling and dialogue with the audience will be his wife, the author Janet Surrey, and their daughter, Katie Chun Surrey Bergman.

The moderator for the evening will be the aforementioned Adam Pertman, one of our country’s leading experts on adoption and author of the seminal book Adoption Nation, among other publications. He has received numerous awards for his work, and his frequent interviews in the media include appearances on “Oprah” and “Nightline”.


This is a free event open to the public, however a reservation is strongly encouraged.

The SoHo Playhouse: 14 Vandam Street. New York, NY 10013

Contact at 212-691-1555 or www.sohoplayhouse.com

For further information about the book, event and/or to arrange an interview with Shem, please contact Vera Sheps: 646-613-1101 or vera@twoshepsthatpass.com

Follow Samuel Shem on Facebook, and read about his upcoming events at: http://www.samuelshem.wordpress.com



“Poignant and tender, a novel about love, parenting, and the nature of home. Shem’s  insights about China and character remind us that geography is destiny. This is a lovely, transformative story.”

Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

“A fascinating, very moving novel—I couldn’t put it down.  An imaginative and truly creative exploration of the amazing ways that adoption affects the many people touched by it. It should be read by all Chinese adopted families—and will be read by most of them—and anyone intrigued by the coming together of American and Chinese cultures.

Shanti Fry,  Founder of the national organization Families of Children from China

“At the Heart of the Universe is a moving exploration of what it means to be a family in this global world, and the complications of love within it. These characters are heartbreaking in both their flaws and yearnings, and by the ending, I had tears in my eyes”

Shilpi Somaya Gowda, NYT bestselling author of Secret Daughter



Best-selling and literary-award-winning novelist SAMUEL SHEM is known as the author of the three million copy–selling modern classic, The House of God, recently named second on Publishers Weekly’s list of “The 10 Best Satires of All Time.” A visiting Artist/Scholar at the American Academy in Rome, a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard Medical School faculty member for over three decades, Shem is currently a Professor of Medical Humanities and Literature at NYU Medical School. He has given over sixty medical school commencement addresses on “Staying Human in Medicine,” and has been described in the press  as “Easily the finest and most important writer ever to focus on the lives of doctors and the world of medicine.” His other books include The Spirit of the Place, named 2009 USA Book News Best Novel of the Year as well as Independent Publishers Best Novel of the Year. His award–winning play Bill W. and Dr. Bob, co–written with his wife Janet Surrey, about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, ran for ten months Off-Broadway in 2013. Surrey and Shem are co–authors of the 2015 book The Buddha’s Wife: The Path of Awakening Together. He lives in Boston, New York, and Costa Rica, together with Janet and their daughter Katie. Follow Shem on Facebook, and read about his upcoming events at www.samuelshem.wordpress.com


Adam Pertman is President and Founder of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency, a unique “one-stop” organization that provides information, resources, education, training, consulting and advocacy to improve the lives of children, families and the professionals who serve them. Pertman has delivered hundreds of keynotes, trainings and other presentations internationally, and the research reports he instigated, helped to conduct and edited – along with his writing, testimony and other advocacy – have been utilized to improve practice, shape law and policy, and educate professionals, students, the media and the public. His commentaries on families and children have appeared in major print and online publications nationwide, on National Public Radio, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox News, as well as in media around the world. As a leading expert on family issues, he and his work has been referenced in such outlets as New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, among others, and he has been a guest on many programs, including “Oprah,” “Today,” “The View” and “Nightline.”


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