I would learn that when families tell stories, what they leave out re-defines what they keep in. With my family, these were not secrets intentionally withheld. Just truths too painful to confront.
In the last years of her life, Teresa Lim’s mother, Violet Chang, had copies of a cherished family photograph made for those in the portrait who were still alive. The photo is mounted on cream card with the name of the studio stamped at the bottom in Chinese characters.
The place and date on the back: Hong Kong, 1935.
Teresa would often look at this photograph, enticed by the fierceness and beauty of her great-aunt Fanny looking back at her. But Fanny never seemed to feature in the told and retold family stories. Why? she wondered.
This photograph set Teresa on a journey to uncover her family’s remarkable history. Through detective work, serendipity, and the kindness of strangers, she was guided to the fascinating, ordinary, extraordinary life of her great-aunt and her world of sworn spinsters, ghost husbands and the working-class feminists of 19th century south China. But to recover her great-aunt’s past, we first must get to know Fanny’s family, the times and circumstances in which they lived, and the momentous yet forgotten conflicts that would lead to war in Singapore and, ultimately, a long-buried family tragedy.
The Interpreter’s Daughter is a beautifully moving record of an extraordinary family history. For fans of Wild Swans, The Hare With Amber Eyes, and Falling Leaves this is the next classic in the making.
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