Liu's impressive fiction debut her first book was the nonfiction Solitaire expresses the mingled fear and discomfort with which a woman confronts her heritage-both as a Chinese-American and as the daughter of a renowned wartime photographer. Though narrator Maibelle Chung spent much of her adolescence in New York's Chinatown, she always felt like an outsider because of her red hair and Anglo features. Now 28 and trying to follow her father's vocation as a photographer Maibelle is torn by unresolved conflicts. She decides that to preserve ``face,'' she must revisit the community of her youth. An acquaintance from her past, Tommy Wah, invites her to contribute images to a book he is writing on Chinatown's insularity; as Maibelle is welcomed back to their old neighborhood, she muses on a mentor who called her Caucasian mother the ``White Witch'' and encouraged her to marry Tommy, to break the witch's spell. Different spellings of Maibelle's name, including the Chinese ``Mei-bi'' and Americanized `Maibee,'' suggests the character's uncertainty about her identity. Yet Maibelle's constant ambivalence and the disjointed, episodic narrative make it difficult for the reader to feel empathy. Liu gets to the heart of her tale when Maibelle calls the old Chinese custom of footbinding ``torture,'' and a friend replies that ``in China passion and pain could not be separated.'' Though Liu's lyrical prose is graceful and evocative, real passion and pain seldom penetrate this narrative. Author tour. Sept.
When Maibelle Chung was growing up, she knew she was different, but hers was a difference with a twist. Only part Chinese, with curly red hair and green eyes, she felt distinctly out of place in New York's Chinatown. Though still haunted by inexplicable nightmares seemingly connected with her youth, Maibelle is reluctantly drawn back to the city she has been avoiding and begins investigating her past. She reestablishes an uneasy relationship with her dysfunctional family-her Chinese father, once a famed photojournalist and now a reclusive putterer; her Wisconsin-born mother, whose marriage was meant to be an exotic escape; and a wacky brother and sister-and reawakens painful memories as she takes out her long-abandoned camera to help her brother's estranged boyhood friend prepare a book on Chinatown. Maibelle's past is indeed a tangled mess, and the resolution of her troubles is confusing; there's simply too much going on. But this first novel is vividly told, and it offers an enticingly different slant on America's multicultural heritage. Most libraries should consider.-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"