This debut novel follows three generations of women. While relationships lie at the core of this light, enjoyable read, some weightier issues of history and identity make it stand out.
The story opens with Lisa, born in the U.S. of Taiwanese parents. She is 32 and a single mother with a string of failed, dead-end jobs behind her. When she gets laid off from her latest job as a housekeeper in a senior home, she stops on her way out to grab a couple of folders from the empty receptionist's desk, thinking they would look good as portfolios for her resumé. One of the folders turns out to be that of Jack and Fei Chen, residents of the senior home, and Lisa promises herself that she will return it.
A rebel from childhood whose father died before she was born, Lisa's wild youth left her pregnant after a one-night stand at a rock concert. Daughter Abbey, named for the Beatles album, is the opposite, a hard-working fifth-grader who vies with a classmate for the valedictorian spot in her elementary school. However, she keeps her academic awards in her school locker because it upsets her grandmother to see her do well.
Abbey is close to her grandmother, whom she calls Ah-Mah, and loves visiting her on Saturdays for lessons in the Taiwanese language, sessions which are torture to Lisa. There's a turbulent history between Lisa and her mother. Silk still mourns for her husband, Lu, killed along with other intellectuals and elites by the Kuomintang during the White Terror following the 228 uprising in Taiwan. She has made a life for herself in the U.S. working long hours in a vineyard, preferring physical labor, but has never lost her fear of and hatred for the Chinese who took over and despoiled her country and her life. When Lisa befriends an elderly Chinese man who works as a maintenance man at Lisa's school and brings him to dinner at Silk's home, it is the last straw.
I appreciated learning more about Taiwan's history. I knew about Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalists, a.k.a. the Kuomintang, taking refuge there in 1949 after they were driven out of mainland China by Mao Zedong's Communists and creating the Republic of China. I've followed the competing claims of the two Chinese governments—the ROC on Taiwan and the People's Republic of China on the mainland—as to which was the legitimate government of China.
But I'm embarrassed to say that I had not thought much about what happened on Taiwan when the Kuomintang arrived. In fact, they took over Taiwan four years earlier, in 1945, when it was turned over to them by Japan at the end of WWII, Japan having ruled the island since 1895, at the end of the first Sino-Japanese War. Although I would have thought the Taiwanese, ethnically Chinese themselves, would have welcomed the return to Chinese rule, in fact they resented the incoming Kuomintang whose high-handed and corrupt behavior led to inflation and other economic woes and who had no hesitation about violently putting down any unrest.
This history is only lightly touched on in the story, though its legacy drives Silk, and through her, her daughter and granddaughter. I'd expected to identify with Lisa as a single mother, rebellious in her youth and paying for it now. However, it was Silk who most captured my attention, her strength and determination, her sometimes misguided attempts to protect what is left of her family.
The story moves quickly. Conflicts that arise are usually resolved by the end of the same chapter. The chapters are only a handful of pages long, written in present tense.
Abbey closes her notebook and sighs. She looks around the empty campus. It's a half-day at school today because of teacher in-service. She's already completed all of tonight's assignments, but her mom still hasn't arrived. She bets her mom doesn't even remember the shortened day even though she insisted on picking Abbey up in Ah-Mah's car.
The brief sentences and short chapters make the story spin by until the final threads are wrapped up in the end. This book would make a great beach read and is appropriate for the Young Adult reader as well as for adults.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a digital copy of this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.