Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review: Diamond Head

Summary: A sweeping debut spanning from China to Hawaii that follows four generations of a wealthy shipping family whose rise and decline is riddled with secrets and tragic love—from a young, powerful new voice in fiction.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, Frank Leong, a fabulously wealthy shipping industrialist, moves his family from China to the island of Oahu. But something ancient follows the Leongs to Hawaii, haunting them. The parable of the red string of fate, the cord that binds one intended beloved to her perfect match, also punishes for mistakes in love, passing a destructive knot down the family line.

When Frank Leong is murdered, his family is thrown into a perilous downward spiral. Left to rebuild in their patriarch’s shadow, the surviving members of the Leong family try their hand at a new, ordinary life, vowing to bury their gilded past. Still, the island continues to whisper—fragmented pieces of truth and chatter, until a letter arrives two decades later, carrying a confession that shatters the family even further.

Now the Leongs’ survival rests with young Theresa, Frank Leong’s only grandchild, eighteen and pregnant, the heir apparent to her ancestors’ punishing knots. Told through the eyes of the Leong’s secret-keeping daughters and wives and spanning The Boxer Rebellion to Pearl Harbor to 1960s Hawaii, Diamond Head is a breathtakingly powerful tale of tragic love, shocking lies, poignant compromise, aching loss, heroic acts of sacrifice and, miraculous hope. -- Harper

I'm not exactly sure where to begin with my review for DIAMOND HEAD, the debut novel by Cecily Wong. I finished this book many weeks ago and was reluctant to write a review because I'm not sure what to say about this novel. I enjoyed it and thought the writing was stellar; however, there was just something about it that kept me from loving it. I thought I'd let the book percolate awhile to see if I could understand what that was, but I'm still not entirely sure.

DIAMOND HEAD is a multi-generational story that takes the reader from the Boxer Rebellion in China to Pearl Harbor to the 1960s in Hawaii. The novel covers four generations of a well-to-do family in the shipping business but focuses primarily on the women of the family; and it weaves back and forth between their stories of the present day (which is really the 1964) and the past.

The book revolves around the funeral of Bohai Long, the son of Frank and Lin. Frank and Lin came from China to Hawaii at the beginning of the 19th century with hopes for a perfect life. Frank built a mansion for his wife and son with the Black Head volcano in the background, and even brought his sister-in-law with them and supported her after the loss of her husband in the Boxer Rebellion.

Their son Bohai is quiet and reserved (and frankly a little different), so his mother Lin decides to help him find a wife. When the family hires a photographer to take their picture, she handpicks Ann, the photographer's daughter as a potential candidate for Bohai. Ann is currently engaged to a childhood friend; however, when he leaves to fight in the war, things become complicated for them. Despite warnings from her mother about entering a loveless marriage, Ann decides to marry Bohai. This decision ultimately results in some major troubles for the family.

Bohai and Ann have a daughter, Theresa, who finds herself pregnant at 18 and unwilling to reveal the father of her baby. When she arrives at her father's funeral, along with Lin and Ann, she begins to explore her family's secrets and she is shocked by what she learns!

As you can see from my summary, DIAMOND HEAD has a lot going on! I actually found the summary difficult to write because I wanted to give background on this interesting family, but not so much information that I would spoil the story. The novel delves into the lives of Lin, Ann, and Theresa and the choices they made; and overall, I appreciated their stories.

DIAMOND HEAD is a family saga that takes place over 60 years, and it includes many secrets, betrayals, and even some mysticism. I read somewhere that some of the events in the novel are based on the author's families. I do think knowing that made the novel even more intriguing to me. These women's lives were fascinating, and I definitely enjoyed seeing how they related to each other as well as the men in their lives.

One of my favorite things about this novel was how much historical information the author was able to include in Lin and Ann's stories. I have read little about the Boxer Rebellion, and while this wasn't a major part of the book, it was an important part of it. In addition, I enjoyed learning about Hawaii in the early 1900s as well as how what occurred at Pearl Harbor affected the islands. I was very impressed with how well the histories of these places were incorporated into the novel.

In addition, I think Ms. Wong did an excellent job of bringing the female characters to life. I deeply appreciated their stories and my heart definitely went out to all of the women in this novel. The author made these women and their stories so real, and I thought her portrayal of their many relationships was outstanding. One thing is for sure, Ms. Wong definitely has established herself as a beautiful writer.

Another aspect of the story that I liked was how the novel explored the idea of fate. The author used the parable of the red string of fate to bring this concept to light. Basically, there is a red string that tethers us to our one true love. If a person denies that love, it can cause a knot in the string which will have negative implications not only on the person initiating the actions but also their descendants. This curse, if you will, was evident throughout the course of these women's stories; and the use of this parable was extremely well done.

Finally, I appreciated how the story was written and how the secrets were eventually revealed. I liked that the funeral of Bohai brought these three women together and how their stories centered around this event. It was interesting to learn about each woman as they also learned about themselves and each other. Furthermore, the transitions between the stories were smooth and the book moved at a good pace.

DIAMOND HEAD would make an excellent book club pick. There truly is so much to discuss about each of these women as well as the time periods in which the grew up. There is a reading guide available with eleven questions, and Ms. Wong is available for author chats. Some of the themes you might want to explore include love, loss, grief, mother/daughter relationships, guilt, control, choices, and fate.

I enjoyed DIAMOND HEAD a great deal but something kept me from actually loving it like I had hoped. I was hoping that maybe writing this review would help flesh it out for me, but unfortunately, I still don't know what was missing for me. The writing was absolutely outstanding and the characters and their stories were interesting. I just think maybe I didn't connect enough to the story for it to truly resonate with me. That's my best guess!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


Carin Siegfried said...

I've been getting into family sagas lately. This sounds good.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds right up my alley so I'm a little disappointed to see you didn't love it. I'll still give it a try, though, since the writing is so good.

Kim@Time2Read said...

I reviewed this one a couple of weeks ago and it was hard for me to review, too. I'm not sure why, but I never really connected with the story. I do agree that the book will make for some interesting book club discussions!