This Place Called Absence is a lush and intricately layered novel that interweaves the lives of four women, spanning time between the early twentieth century and modern day.
Wu Lan is a contemporary woman--a psychologist now living in Vancouver who grew up in Singapore. She is on a leave of absence from her work, trying to come to terms with her father's suicide. Mahmee, Wu Lan's mother who is still living in Singapore, is haunted by the ghost of her dead husband, Yen. Her voice is suspended between the worlds of the living and the dead. Yen visits Wu Lan as well. His ghost drives her to seek knowledge in new places--including library texts--to learn more about her past and to try to understand him better.
The other two women are voices from the past, young ah ku who worked in the brothels in Singapore. Their tale of resilience and passion is riveting. Lee Ah Choi was sold into prostitution by her father and supports her family at home, while Chow Chat Mui was lured into the sex trade after she ran away from her Chinese homeland to escape her father's sexual abuse. Meeting by chance, the two women give each other love, strength and hope as they help each other to survive their brutal circumstances. This is not enough to dampen their deepening sense of despair, however, and both Ah Choi and Chat Mui fall under the powerful spell of opium.
Kwa transports us between the past and present, merging tradition and modern life in a way that is reminiscent of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. This is a heart-breaking tale of despair and hope and the transformational power of the imagination.
Turnstone Press Ltd.
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Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada