Ng's spare, unpretentious debut explores turmoil in a Chinese- American family. Narrator Leila circles back and forth in time as she tries to understand her sister Ona's suicide and to relieve the family guilt. Leila was always problem-solver and go-between (while growing up in San Francisco's Chinatown) for her mother, stepfather Leon, and the English-speaking world. Now Leon, a merchant seaman with a habit of shipping out at times of family crisis, has moved into a seedy hotel and seems well on the way to becoming a derelict. He blames himself for bringing bad luck: He never fulfilled his promise to have the bones of his ``paper father'' reinterred in China. Mah feels responsible, too: for an adulterous affair with the sweatshop boss and for arranging Leon's failed business venture with the swindling Ong family--Ona, in love with the Ong son, was caught in the middle. Meanwhile, youngest sister Nina lives in N.Y.C. and keeps her distance from family. During a visit to Nina, Leila and her longtime lover Mason Louie--a sexy, unfailingly supportive auto mechanic--finally marry at City Hall, cheating Mah out of the traditional celebration. Leila reveals secrets in a mostly matter-of-fact voice, eventually restating Leon's belief: ``...sorrow moves through the heart the way a ship moves through the ocean. Ships are massive, but the ocean has simple superiority.'' Besides, ``the heart never travels''-- reassurance that Leila can move on without leaving family and past behind. A complicated, sometimes moving, if necessarily inconclusive, story; but the telling--through simple declarative statements and sentence fragments--too often undercuts the implied complexity of emotion.