It’s a book I have been meaning to read for a while now. Finally, when I got around to reading it, I finished reading it really quickly and it’s amazing. It is a good book no doubt but it’s not exactly an easy read. The novel is about an American Chinese family. The book begins with the disappearance of Lydia Lee; she is the middle child of James and Marilyn Lee and also their favorite. The book is set in the 1970’s in a small town in Ohio. The lives of everyone in the family are turned upside down once Lydia’s body is found at the bottom of a lake. The narrative then encompasses each of the family members perspectives and it shifts from past to present.
The book is written beautifully, every single emotion felt by the characters is described so perfectly, there is never a sense of detachment towards any characters because of this. The oldest son Nath is such a sympathetic character, he is brushed aside by his parents his relationship with his father James is strained because Nath is different than the person James wants him to be. Hannah is the youngest daughter and she is pretty much neglected by everyone in the family. The tone of the book lingers in sadness from the start but Hannah’s chapters just hits you hard; she is a quiet little girl who is the most observant one in her family, she blends in the background so often that the characters don’t even know if she is in their presence.
In the beginning, I’ll admit Lydia’s character didn’t intrigue me much but as the story unravels I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. She is the sole focus of her parents, she is pressurized by her parents knowingly as well as unknowingly. James and Marilyn pin all their lifelong hopes on her without realizing that it’s crushing her. As the past of James and Marilyn is slowly revealed through flashbacks you understand where they come from; James as someone who couldn’t fit in the “American” society and Marilyn who gives up on her aspirations and lives with regret.
The novel tackles sensitive topics like casual racism, sexism, and miscegenation without actually becoming a story about either of these topics. The subtleness weaved throughout the plot makes it much more effective and dramatic. All the characters are relatable and none of their emotions seem fabricated and the flow is very natural. The minor characters too like- Marilyn’s mother and Jack also play an important part in moving the plot ahead and it all adds up to the ending.
The dynamic between this family is tangible though I thought it was dysfunctional most of the time. Relationships between the characters at times are normal and at times are not, for example, Nath and Lydia. They are close but Lydia needs Nath a lot more as a support system than he needs her and the thought of him leaving for college disturbs Lydia. The plot stays focused on Lydia’s death and explores the lives of the family past and present through this incident.
The book was emotionally draining which was the reason I couldn’t read it as fast as I wanted to. It is a beautifully written book, it moves from past to present with perspective from each of the four characters seamlessly without the plot becoming confusing. The novel keeps you guessing from the beginning and you can’t wait to find out all the answers. I think it’s a must-read.
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