In the late 1880’s, Washington territory, Mei Lien’s whole world revolved around her father and grandmother, both of whom she revered and loved with all her heart. But with one unthinkable strike, both of them were torn from her and her entire life trajectory changed.
Fast forward to current day, and we find Inara, whose favorite aunt has died, with a wish that Inara take her estate and turn it into an island inn. In her exploration of the estate, Inara stumbles upon the sleeve of a robe, embroidered with an elaborate scene that appears to be communicating an urgent message from long ago.
What is the connection? And what will that connection mean for Inara’s family? What did it mean, more importantly, for Mei Lien?
I feel this book, while powerful in its message and matter, just missed its mark in the telling. The idea of the story is a brilliant one, based in a historical reality that needs to be told – and one that I, for one, was beforehand, ignorant of. In the late 1800’s and well into the 1900’s, the Chinese who immigrated to the US and Canada were treated abominably, often with prejudice at best and with violence at worst. This story brings that racism to a very personal level, highlighting the loneliness, despair, and abject terror that racism induces.
On the more literary side, the resolution of the story that is told is just too extreme to be believable. The family connections are too improbable. The way Inara finds a chef for her kitchen for her inn is too coincidental. And the ending just slides into home plate for that grand slam in a way that almost trivializes the story. I am not saying that the ending is not what anyone reading the story would have wanted, but I think it was too neat and tidy. It’s not real life.
But maybe that is why it’s called fiction.
I am still glad I read this book and would recommend it to others as well. If not for the literary sparkle, for the historical perspective it provides.