- Congratulations to Madeleine Thien, winner of the 2006 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award for Certainty. See all of this year's nominees.
Thien's debut novel draws its meager impetus from the tale of Matthew and Ani, two 10-year-olds in the village of Sandakan in Japanese-occupied Borneo during WWII, whose lyrical idylls buffer them from the horrors of war. Romance blossoms when they reunite eight years later, in 1953, but their past—Matthew's dead father collaborated with the Japanese—splits them up, sending the secretly pregnant Ani off to Jakarta and Matthew to Vancouver and a marriage (to Clara). Matthew and Ani's saga intertwines with the latter-day story of Matthew and Clara's daughter, Gail, a radio documentary maker, whose cozy but bland relationship is buffeted by an affair and who decides to find out about her father's mysterious past with Ani. Thien (Simple Recipes) uses this narrative as a peg for much elegiac meditation interspersed with muzzy reflections on fractals, code breaking and snowflake formation—her metaphor for the minute contingencies that shape human motivation. Her prose is poised but wan, and the patchwork story, despite jolts of tragic history, doesn't elicit much interest in her characters or their roads not taken. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
In her beautifully written debut novel, Thien spins a silky web of a story, a lovely and powerful multigenerational saga that explores a family's secrets stemming from events that occurred in a Malaysian village during the Japanese occupation of World War II. Death lurks behind much of the story and, in fact, the main character, Gail Lim, dies in the opening pages. The story begins there, though, and easily moves readers from the past to the present, as family members detail their own, sometimes very painful, recollections of events. These events include the death of Lim's grandfather at the hands of Japanese soldiers as well as the grandfather's possible involvement in wartime collaborations with the enemy, a lost love lurking in the jungles of that stricken Malaysian village, and the story of the eventual migration of the family, via Australia and Hong Kong, to Vancouver, British Columbia. There is a light, translucent quality to Thien's prose that casts a certain dreamlike quality on the tale, and yet the magnetic plot will keep the reader's interest through the end. Kathleen Hughes
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.