A father and son travel to China in an attempt to bridge their 25-year estrangement in Leung’s debut novel (World Famous Love Acts: Stories, 2004).
Westen Chan is eight years old when his American mother Celia is struck and killed by a car near their Los Angeles home. His distraught father, Xin, decides for reasons he keeps secret that Westen should live with his wife’s childless aunt and uncle on their farm in Washington state and be reared as an American. Although the aunt and uncle treat Westen lovingly, he never understands why he had to lose his father after his mother died. As he matures into a sensitive but emotionally reserved man, Westen resists falling in love with anyone until he meets Gideon, an older man who is dying of AIDS. He and Gideon live chastely together until Gideon’s death. Sometime afterward, Westen, now 32, receives a letter from his father inviting him on the trip to his homeland. Their reunion is awkward. As they travel with a small tour group through China, Westen cannot resist expressing his deep resentment, although he knows that is not the sum of his feelings toward his father. Unbeknownst to Westen, Xin is dying and needs to explain why he left Westen behind, but he has trouble conveying his complex motive, which factors in Xin’s own father’s disapproval of his marriage to Celia; Xin’s failure to defend Celia from a rape; and his fear of not protecting Westen in a foreign culture. The story is presented in alternating short chapters from the son’s perspective and the father’s. Each chapter begins with a formal heading (e.g. “The father and son arrive at Confucius’s Temple; the son recalls a trip to Disneyland.”). The effect is that of touring a progression of tableaus, which contrasts powerfully with the roiling feelings father and son are incapable of expressing.
A patient, artfully controlled work about memory, regret and love.