The National League of American Pen Women 2001
Soul-Making Literary Prize Winner,
Honorable Mention for the work Trigrams
Sisterly rivalries, jealousy, envy, love, and the competition for parental approval are crosscurrents that operate below the surface among four talented teen-aged sisters of the Lee family, wealthy Koreans living in 1940's Shanghai. Their family's dynamics become subsumed and greatly complicated when the communists take over China in 1949, and the Lees are forced to abandon their home. They flee to Korea, a land they have never seen. Within months the Korean War breaks out and they are swept into its maelstrom.
Three days later their home is overrun. They endure forced labor at the hands of a hostile North Korean army, with the threat of violent death at any time. Again they must flee, abandoning their new home and every possession. There is no choice but to accept their loss and join the hoards of homeless refugees moving south, away from the battleground. Ultimately, they have to separate in the dead of winter to find refuge at the mercy of not always welcoming distant relatives whom they have never met.
Ai-li Lee, seventeen when the book opens, is the narrator. In a simple girl's voice she relates how she, her parents and siblings struggle to survive and keep the family intact. To prevail, they faced bitter passions within and beyond their family of violent rape, betrayal, infidelity, revenge, political intrigue and murder.
Desperate for guidance during their crises, Ai-li and her closest brother, Eddie, turn to the I Ching, the ancient Chinese oracle their revered grandfather had relied on in Shanghai. They hope the secrets of its trigrams will reveal their wisdom to them, too.