Characters excavate the past in order to illuminate the present.
The author hits the ground running with a scene in which a woman we will soon come to know as a loving, nurturing nanny lashes out with a kitchen knife at her employer, a woman we will soon come to know as a nasty narcissist. Moving from decade to decade and back and forth across the ocean from Manila to Berkeley, Calif., this is a compelling tale of tragic family secrets. Amparo, the daughter of upper-class parents, has an abortion. Worried about what gossip will do to the family honor, the mother, Señora Concha, banishes her daughter to America, where Amparo gets work as an interpreter in Berkeley. There, she meets and falls in love with her yoga teacher and connects with her mother’s brother, also banished from the family home, years before she was born. Beverly (named for Beverly Hills), from a poor, servant-class family, gets herself to California by putting her photo up on a website where American men look for Filipina mail-order brides. Beverly ends up with a man acting out a cycle of domestic violence that began in his own childhood, and she plans to leave him as soon as she can secretly save enough money to buy tickets for herself and their young daughter to go back to Manila. Beverly and Amparo meet by chance in Berkeley, but Beverly suffers a tragic death before she and Amparo can discover their blood connection. When Amparo learns that Beverly was the result of her uncle’s long-ago affair with her own nanny’s sister, she steps up with her boyfriend to adopt the child Beverly left behind.
After tracing the family’s dark history, the tragic story ends on a more hopeful note for the next generation.