It is the 1940s. Four siblings in Vancouver, Canada live with their migrant family, not oblivious to the murmurs of war brewing in distant lands, but preoccupied with being children and facing the fears and worries of their age. The story is told from the point of views of three of the four children.
Liang is the third child and only girl. The story starts with her and her resentment of her youngest brother, Sekky, who is sickly and is the centre of attention for the Old One, the stern family matriach who has lived a hundred lifetimes and whose word is law in the household. She finds comfort in the Old One's friend, one whom she calls the Monkey Man; and takes refuge from a seemingly callous family in this strange and lonely old man, only to lose him before she is ready to let go.
Sum is the second son, adopted after having been put in foster homes throughout western Canada. He finds strength in the boxing ring, learning to be strong to mask the hurts of his past life, and trying to come to grips with his new family, and later coming into his own.
Sekky is the youngest. Sickly since birth, he is the Old One's pearl, her baby. Whilst the others feared and resented their grandmother, Sekky and the Old One are inseparable. He finds strength and warmth in his grandmother's steady hands. His story tells of his life with the Old One, her death, his pain in accepting her absence, and later on, meeting with his baby-sitter who becomes his new best friend.
This is an easy read, and particularly poignant to those who have any inkling of being overseas Chinese in a land where they are not fully accepted, yet must call home for they can never (will never) return to the China they knew. Choy also tells of the tension between the Chinese and Japanese communities of Vancouver as Japan was invading China during the time; and later on, when Pearl Harbour was bombed.
I enjoyed the book. It is particularly nice that Choy tells three different yet parallel stories from three different perspectives. He forces understanding onto the reader, and compassion. Unknown # 11:44 AM