|A journey through the past
This charming novel by Wendy Lee opens with widow Ling Tang contemplating her derelict garden almost a year after her husband Han has died, segueing through her memories of him, of living in their house in the suburbs, both emigrants, he from mainland China, she from Taiwan.
In the US, they had two children, Emily and Michael, raising them in the home where Ling looks at her long-forgotten lawn. Moving across to Emily – a hard-working lawyer, married to a filmmaker Julian. When she receives a call from her mother, worried about Michael, who hasn’t answered his phone in days and his voice mail is full, Emily reluctantly and worriedly heads off to the apartment Michael rented in New York, setting in motion a ripping apart of the layers that have held this family together.
Michael has absconded to China, it turns out. And when Emily arrives at his apartment, secrets start to unravel. She encounters his lover, David, she didn’t even know he was gay. Michael meanwhile is having his own adventures on the mainland and we follow him as he unwraps the mystery of his father’s silences, a legacy of his past that is soon revealed as he meets an old friend of his father’s. 1960s China and the legacy of a time of darkness is recounted. Michael has to come to terms with finding out what his father did in the time before he emigrated.
Secrets were kept and held tight
Back in America, Emily is struggling through her own ambiguous feelings about her long-term marriage and her husband, and seeing her unable to reach out to the man her daughter loves, but seems unable to connect to, Ling can only watch. She has no words to begin this particular conversation with her daughter. This has been a family watched over by a silent, almost autocratic father. Secrets were kept and held tight, the net such a thing demanded growing tighter.
But Michael’s actions and sudden journey is the catalyst that will throw a door wide open.
This is charming read, as I said, as the action follows all three across their journeys, Ling’s interior journey into her past, and her own momentous day, Emily’s growing understanding of herself and her marriage, and Michael’s very visceral journey through China, evoking a modern-day country so dramatically different from his own in a vivid way that is a delight to read, while leading him through to the past as well. Highly recommended.