Wednesday, June 17, 2015

#BookReview: DIAMOND HEAD by Cecily Wong

I love a good generational story and Diamond Head does not disappoint. The “present day” setting is 1964 Hawaii, but the narrator takes us on a journey to 1909 China, the Boxer Rebellion and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It’s interesting that of the stories Theresa, the narrator, tells, hers is the one we know least. Her focus is on her parents, Amy and Bohai, and grandparents, Frank and Lin.

A wealthy shipping magnate in China, Frank Leong partners with Germans, Americans and any partnership that is financially beneficial to him. When his brother, Shen, loses his life in the Boxer Rebellion, Frank and Lin take in Hong, Shen’s wife, who becomes the keeper of all family secrets. When it becomes too dangerous for the Leongs to stay in China, Frank relocates them to Oahu. It is there that the stories of Bohai, his eldest son, and Kaipo, the youngest son, unfold.

Extremely shy and not at all the outgoing, boisterous eldest son that Frank hoped for, Bohai prefers to stick to his books. What he lacks in personality, Kaipo more than makes up for it. There isn’t a person that meets Kaipo that doesn’t fall under his spell, including Frank, leaving little room for Bohai.

Amy lives in near squalor on the island with her parents and a number of siblings. A photography assignment takes her to the home of the wealthy Leongs and she soon finds herself swept up in the possibility of what a life with Leong money and philanthropic fame could look like for herself and her family. “The parable of the red string of fate, the cord which binds one intended beloved to her perfect match, also punishes for mistakes in love, passing a destructive knot down the family line.” By no means is Amy the first in her family or the Leong family to disregard fate and, like others, she suffers for it.

Hong, the modest and reserved observer, watches all. She’s companion, caregiver and comforter to each member of the family at some point. It’s Hong who has known Lin the longest and Hong who takes care of her when she begins to unravel.

As Theresa tells her family’s story, we learn that she is pregnant and unwed and has little to no contact with her unborn child’s father. While Amy is angry at her for getting pregnant, I had to wonder if her anger is because she thought Theresa would get to have the loving marriage that she didn’t. Theresa, on the other hand, resents her mother for how distant she was from her father, Bohai. How could Amy set an example of what marriage should look like when Theresa witnessed her trying to escape hers daily?

Diamond Head is so good, so so good. Cecily Wong has created some unforgettable characters. I’d hesitate to call this historical fiction, though the characters do dip their toes into quite a bit of history. Overall, it’s just a good book. I’d recommend it for people that love generational sagas.

Published: April 2015

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