With a subtle blend of fierceness and evanescence, Nunez's debut comments profoundly on the lasting effects of the immigrant experience and the haunting powers of family. The unnamed female narrator tells a four-part story that begins with her father, a Chinese-Panamanian immigrant who moved to Brooklyn at the age of 12 or 13. She understands little about this workaholic who spent most of his time away from home until cancer felled him. Why didn't he ever learn to speak English? Why, in his 30s, did he switch his name from Chang to the Hispanic surname of his mother? Why did he refuse to discuss anything at all with his children? She can't answer these questions. She can merely collect what she does know and accept that it's too late to understand him. Her German-born mother, Christa, was her father's opposite: Full of rage, grace, beauty, laughter, and sorrow, Christa clung to her German heritage and spoke constantly of her past. The book's second section, which deals with her, is about love and nostalgia, about seeing with all her flaws the one individual who most shaped the narrator's life (``I seem to remember my mother as though she were a landscape rather than a person''). The third part is devoted to the narrator's dream of becoming a ballerina, which, as she poignantly states, ``begins with the dream of being beautiful.'' Here she makes some caustic connections between foot binding and toe shoes; she also recognizes that in ballet she sought escape and discipline. The final section revolves around an ill-advised love affair. The narrator examines the theory that no matter how far you go in life ``you must stick with your own class'' and sees in herself the intense desire to please, charm, and provoke desire. A rich, intelligent tapestry of the connections between language, love, beauty, and forgiveness.