Told from the perspective of Olivia, the very Western and practical younger sister, this delightful tapestry is the result of Tan’s signature wise yet comical scripting. From the suburbs of modern-day Daly City to the mystical village of Changmian during the Taiping Rebellion, Tan creates high adventure by expertly weaving two distinct plots.
Kwan, the eccentric and overly ingenuous older sister, was left behind in China by the sisters’ father when she was 5 years old. Upon his death, Kwan comes to America to join the new family her father started shortly after his arrival to the land of opportunity. Instead of the slim exotic beauty they envisioned, the family is met by a girl dressed in gray pajamas wearing “a brown broad face, flanked by two thick braids.” Kwan conveniently becomes the 24-hour baby sitter to her half-sister, Olivia, who in turn, is involuntarily chosen to be Kwan’s reluctant guide to American life.
Shortly after her arrival, Kwan informs Olivia that she has “Yin eyes,” which allow her to see and communicate with ghosts. These ghosts live in a place called “Yin World,” where most Chinese people go after they die.
For many years, Olivia indulges Kwan’s constant banter of spirits and detailed accounts of past events.
As an adult, Olivia becomes a freelance photographer whose marriage is on the rocks. Even though she and her husband/business partner are destined to be together, according to Kwan, Olivia’s insecurity about Simon’s love eventually lead the couple to separation. Kwan, meanwhile, has not changed in her belief in the spirit world. Her feelings about walking and talking spirits become stronger than ever.
A photo assignment in China takes the threesome on a mystical journey. Featuring characters of the past, eerie and unexplainable events ensue that lead Olivia to believe that Kwan may not be insane after all.
Drawing events from her own family’s history, Tan creates unforgettable plots about family, relationships and the workings of destiny. Those who wait anxiously for the San Francisco-based writer’s newest production will relish her gift of laughter, wisdom and love.