In the aftermath of her mother's death by suicide, Leigh develops the notion that her mother's ghost has been visiting her in the form of a big red bird. The bird, it becomes apparent, wants her to visit her mother's parents in Taipei, whom Leigh has never met. Once there, a series of strange and wonderful events leads Leigh on a trip of discovery, not only into her mother's past, but also into the secrets of her family. But still, the bird seems to have a message to tell her and with only a few days before her mother's ghost is gone forever, Leigh is desperate to find out what that message is. At the same time, Leigh has left behind (but not forgotten) troubles at home, in the form of an old friend whom she wishes were someone more.
The novel is a mix of family drama and Taiwanese mysticism that sounds messy but actually gels nicely. Pan writes beautifully and expressively and this lyrical story has a lot packed inside of it. Surprisingly, the fraught and melodramatic themes of grief and regret are not so pronounced, instead the author focuses on discovering one's legacy and history (and the healing role that such a journey plays in coming to terms with loss). The result is a transcendent novel about rebirth.
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