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Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine: her work, watching movies with her boyfriend, avoiding thoughts of her recently deceased Chinese immigrant parents. So she barely notices when a plague of biblical proportions sweeps the world.

Candace joins a small group of survivors, led by the power-hungry Bob, on their way to the Facility, where, Bob promises, they will have everything they need to start society anew. But Candace is carrying a secret she knows Bob will exploit. Should she escape from her rescuers?

A send-up and takedown of the rituals, routines and missed opportunities of contemporary life, Severance is a moving family story, a deadpan satire and a heartfelt tribute to the connections that drive us to do more than survive.

Read an excerpt on LitHub 
Read an excerpt on VICE
Severance is Buzzfeed’s #1 pick for summer reads! 
Instagram book buzz! #severancethenovel
Listen to Ling Ma’s Spotify Severance playlist on Large Hearted Boy 


Chicago Review of Books 
LA Times
Paris Review 
The Lifted Brow


A Cup of Jo
American Booksellers Association, Sep 18 Indie Next List
Book Page 
Chicago Magazine
Chicago Tribune 
Guardian, ‘Best summer books 2018’ 
Kirkus Reviews (starred review) 
Millions, August Most Anticipated 
New Republic
New Yorker, ‘What We’re Reading This Summer’ 
NPR ‘46 Great Books to Read This Summer’ 
Psychology Today 
Publishers Weekly 

Ling Ma
About the Author

Ling Ma was born in Sanming, China and grew up in Utah, Nebraska and Kansas. She attended the University of Chicago and received an MFA from Cornell University. Prior to graduate school she worked as a journalist and editor. Her writing has appeared in Granta, Vice, Playboy, Chicago Reader, Ninth Letter and other publications. A chapter of ...

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3 September 2018
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Praise for Ling Ma

‘Ling Ma’s apocalypse glistens with terror, humour, anger and humanity…You will not be able to stop reading this ingeniously constructed and electrifyingly harrowing book.’

‘A moving meditation on home, belonging and life itself—all rendered in cool yet affecting prose that’s too good not to keep reading.’

‘My autocorrect keeps putting “King Ma” instead of Ling Ma, but maybe that’s on the mark: she totally rules. Severance is like nothing else around: a witty workplace novel and a terrifying plague yarn, an immigrant story and a sort of homecoming, full of Chinese whispers and New York ghosts.’

‘Ling Ma has given us a terrifyingly plausible vision of our collective future, one in which our comforts have become pathology and our habits death—and, in her protagonist, a hero who doesn’t know if she should be seeking salvation or oblivion. And yet, somehow, Severance could easily be the funniest book of the year. It’s a brilliant, deadpan novel of survival, in this world and in the precarious world to come.’

‘This is a biting indictment of late-stage capitalism and a chilling vision of what comes after, but that doesn’t mean it’s a Marxist screed or a dry Hobbesian thought experiment…Ma also offers lovely meditations on memory and the immigrant experience. Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written.’

‘Ma’s language does so much in this book, and its precision, its purposeful specificity, implicates an entire generation. But what is most  remarkable is the gentleness with which Ma describes those working within the capital-S System. What does it mean if a person finds true comfort working as a “cog” in a system they disagree with? Is that comfort any less real?’

‘Ma’s writing is compelling and cogent, perfectly satirising a world that often feels beyond parody.’

‘Embracing the [apocalyptic fiction] genre but somehow transcending it, Ma creates a truly engrossing and believable anti-utopian world…[An] extraordinary debut.’

‘Ma’s writing about the jargon of globalised capitalism has a mix of humour and pathos that reminded me a little of Infinite Jest and a little of George Saunders; it produced a sense of estrangement from my cosmetics, my clothes, and my iPhone. I finished it feeling sad and sensitive to the garbage all around us that comes at such a high cost to planetary and human welfare.’

‘In this shrewd postapocalyptic debut, Ma imagines the end times in the world of late capitalism, marked by comforting, debilitating effects of nostalgia on its characters…The novel’s strength lies in Ma’s accomplished handling of the walking dead conceit to reflect on what constitutes the good life. This is a clever and dextrous debut.’

‘A smart, searing exposé on the perils of consumerism, Google overload, and millennial malaise…An already established audience will be eager to discover this work.’

‘A fierce debut from a writer with seemingly boundless imagination…It’s a stunning, audacious book with a fresh take on both office politics and what the apocalypse might bring: This is the way the world ends, Ma seems to be saying, not with a bang but a memo.’

‘A clever and dextrous debut.’

‘In the end, Severance isn’t so much a story about zombies as it is an imaginative critique of capitalism. Underneath Ma’s deadpan comedy lie shrewd observations of the West and the decadence of our everyday existence.’

‘Funny, frightening, and touching…Ling Ma manages the impressive trick of delivering a bildungsroman, a survival tale, and satire of late capitalist millennial angst in one book, and Severance announces its author as a supremely talented writer to watch.’

‘Gripping and original…Lyrical, vividly detailed and fresh.’

‘It’s a stunning book. I devoured Severance in as close to a single sitting as possible…and it shook me on an emotional level that no other apocalyptic novel has reached.’

‘Ma’s engrossing, masterfully written debut transforms the mundane into a landscape of tricky memory, where questions of late-stage capitalism, immigration, displacement and motherhood converge in such a sly build-up as to render the reader completely stunned.’

Severance operates with severe restraint…but there’s a power to the restraint, and an elegance to the understatement.’

‘It’s a novel that sneaks up on you from all sides: it’s an affecting portrayal of loss, a precise fictional evocation of group dynamics, and a sharp character study of its protagonist, Candace Chen. It also features one of the most hauntingly plausible end-of-the-world scenarios I’ve encountered in recent fiction…[T]his is a monumentally unnerving novel, one that leaves no easy answers or comfortable nooks in which to take refuge.’

‘A hilariously searing critique of who we are and how we survive in a modern world…Ma’s caustic humour and incredibly smart commentary on late capitalism compares our adherence to routine and groupthink to a terminal infection. Her precise language, original voice, and use of all-too-relatable details inform the debut’s deadpan depiction of a society teetering on the edge.’

‘A cracking read, deeply moving and at times hilarious.’

Other editions ofSeverance
  • Severance
    ISBN: 9781925774139
    3 September 2018
    Buy ebook