Red Oblivion, by Leslie Shimotakahara

Is it possible to have a relationship with one’s parents that isn’t loaded with emotional baggage? Those of us who are lucky have many more good memories than painful ones. Jill Lau has plenty of problems with her father but, in Leslie Shimotakahara’s Red Oblivion, she discovers that there are whole skeletons in her family’s closet that she didn’t even know about.

At the beginning of Red Oblivion, Jill and her sister are on their way to Hong Kong after getting the call that every child dreads: the call that informs them that their father is in the hospital and might not make it out. The sisters went to college in Toronto and never went home again, grateful beyond words to be away from their cold, relentless parents. As soon as we meet Lau père, all of Jill’s concerns make sense. Her father has planned out Jill’s whole life, regardless of the fact that she’s spent more than a decade in another country.

Jill quickly finds out that her father’s collapse was caused by some photographs someone had sent him from mainland China. The photos don’t do much more than hint at old secrets. They give enough of a hint, though, that Jill starts to question her father’s stories about his past as a man who survived the Cultural Revolution with a bit of luck to reinvent himself as a self-made business man. When her father stonewalls, Jill starts to ask more questions—especially when she receives her own mysterious parcel in the mail.

Red Oblivion is the story of a daughter wrestling with her father’s expectations, her sense of duty, feelings of being trapped, and her angry bewilderment about her father’s real past. It is a moving—and deeply honest—portrait of a family that desperately needs to let go of its baggage, so that they can move into a better future.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration.


Notes for bibliotherapeutic use: Recommend to children of elderly parents, who struggle with their feelings of obligation.

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