This month, I have read two books by Madeleine Thien. She is one of those writers that you can sit with a nice tall cup of coffee or mocha and just peruse page by page. And that is precisely what I did over two weekends with two of her wonderful books–this is the second one and the best in many ways!
This book is her eagerly anticipated first novel. It is a haunting portrayal of a moment in history, a novel of generations that has at its center two memorable love stories.
Gail Lim is a producer of radio documentaries in Vancouver. She brings to her work her deeply felt yet troubled relationship with her partner. Ansel, a physician, is an adventurous spirit. She believes that sooner or later all things connect. Her parents’ past in war torn Asia, however, remains hidden and is something that continue to shadow her life.
When Gail’s father, Matthew Lim, was a child, he wandered the Leila Road and the edges of the jungle with his lovely Ani in the dark time of war in Japanese-occupied Sandakan, North Borneo, and the bond that is formed between them will endure throughout the decades.
The war shatters their families and splits the two apart until years later when they re-meet, only to be separated again. The legacy of their shared past will be carried by Matthew and his wife, Clara, across the ocean to Canada, and the secret it holds will eventually touch all their lives in unexpected ways.
As the narrative unfolds, going back and forth in time, we also learn about Ansel’s story, how he discovers the unpredictable nature of grief and comes to uneasy terms with those things he cannot change.
The reader will also follow Clara back to an event in her childhood in early 1950s Hong Kong: later to Australia, where she meets a fellow student, Matthew, a young man burdened by the past.
The story is vivid, poignant and wise. It is a novel that shows the devastation of loss, the dislocations of war, and the redemptive qualities of love.
I loved this book from start to finish. I will be buying this book through ABE.
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by: Irene S. Roth