I received an advanced review copy of this book from Harper.
Bohai is a quiet, unassuming man who, growing up in China at the beginning of the 20th century, is viewed as different even from his early childhood. This book is a narrative of his life as seen through the eyes of the women that surround him: his mother, his wife and his daughter. It seems that none of them truly understood or appreciated him until his early and tragic death. Their grief forces them to look back on their own lives, their family secrets and their experiences that greatly impacted this silent, yet honorable man.
Lin Leong, Bohai’s mother, could not produce a child for her husband. She has two stillbirths, both of which produce girls and she is so desparate to produce a boy to become his father’s heir, that she hires a concubine for her husband. The concubine, only 14 years old at the time, gives birth to Bohai and dies shortly thereafter. Lin and her husband dote on their only son until the age of five when they realize that he is not like other children. Instead of being active like other boys his age, he rarely speaks and he is content to sit quietly in his room and read books. His mother doesn’t think he will ever marry and for a while she even fears Bohai is gay. When her husband moves the family from their home in China to Hawaii, Lin is hoping that this will be a new beginning for the entire family.
Amy, Bohai’s wife comes from a very poor family of twelve. It is evident from her narrative that she wants nothing more in life than to dig herself out of her poverty. When she starts working for her father’s photography business, World War II has just broken out and dozens of men who are ready to be shipped out come to the studio to have their pictures taken. This is when Amy meets a handsome engineer named Henry. They have a whirlwind, month long romance and before Henry goes off to war in Europe, he asks Amy to wait for him. While Henry is away, she is introduced to the Leong family and marriage is proposed between Amy and the shy Bohai. Amy has a difficult decision, but in the end she opts for wealth and security over passion and love.
The final woman connected to Bohai is his eighteen year old daughter Theresa who is pregnant and, at such a young age, has a life fraught with hardship and difficult decisions. When Bohai dies, Theresa is told all of the long-buried family secrets about her father and his family. Theresa also took Bohai for granted when he was alive and now she deeply regrets that she did not build a closer relationship with her father when she had the chance.
DIAMOND HEAD is a novel that kept my attention from beginning to end. The author is adept at building the storyline of the family a bit at a time to keep the reader turning the pages. I highly recommend this interesting historical fiction novel, a triumphant first piece of writing from Cecily Wong.
About The Author:
Cecily Wong is Chinese-Hawaiian. She was born on Oahu and raised in Oregon. Diamond Head grew from family stories told to her by her parents and grandparents. Wong graduated from Barnard College, where the first pages of this novel won the Peter S. Prescott Prize for Prose Writing. She lives in New York City.
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