The power of this enchanting debut novel lies in the evanescence of reality and the stealth of truth. Over a decade after she went public with her account of anorexia nervosa (Solitaire, 1979), Liu breaks into fiction with the story of a young woman's search for identity in a complex maze of fact, fiction, nightmares, dreams, history, fantasy, hope, lies, and loss. As the daughter of a half-Chinese father and a white mother, Maibelle grew up feeling like an outcast in Manhattan's Chinatown. She was tall and redheaded, their apartment smelled of the French cuisine her mother insisted on cooking instead of the garlic and dried shrimp of her neighbors' homes, and she knew nothing of her heritage since her father never breathed a word of his past in Shanghai. But when breaking all family ties and traveling cross-country after college fails to quell the nightmares that have plagued her sleep since high school, Maibelle returns to New York to confront her past. She probes her father to discover why he gave up his successful photojournalism career when his Life magazine covers of the Pacific theater during WW II could have brought his family much more fame and money than his small-time inventions. She tells off her manipulative, art-gallery-running mother, who expects her to follow in her father's footsteps and become the famous photographer he should have been. She sifts through memories like her first love, her first death, summers on her grandparents' Wisconsin farm, the old man who taught her Chinese characters, and many mesmerizing folk tales. And she comes face to face with the people of Chinatown while working on a book project documenting their culture. All the pieces of the heroine's disjointed history create a beautiful mess that comes together at the last moment. Delicate, lyrical, mysterious.