Book #25

Ghost Girl, Banana by Wiz Wharton

1966: Sook-Yin is exiled from Kowloon to London with orders to restore honour to her family. As she strives to fit into a world that does not understand her, she realizes that survival will mean carving out a destiny of her own.

1997: Sook-Yin's daughter Lily can barely remember the mother she lost as a small child. But when she is unexpectedly named in the will of a powerful Chinese stranger, she embarks on a secret pilgrimage to Hong Kong to discover the lost side of her identity and claim the reward. But she soon learns that the secrecy around her heritage has deep roots, and good fortune comes at a price.

I was completely absorbed by this beautifully meandering story of a mother and daughter. A mother and daughter separated by death, by secrets, and by the social and cultural expectations of family.

We meet Sook-Yin in 1966, travelling to London from Kowloon - an instruction made by her family in order to improve their social standing, and to help with money. We witness her attempting to adapt to the language and the cultural differences whilst striving to keep a job, and we see the origin of her downfall take the form of an incredibly flawed and selfish man. Tale as old as time.

In alternating chapters, we meet Lily, Sook-Yin’s daughter. Anxious, lonely, and living life to around half of her ability, she continues to mourn the death of her mother and wonder about her life. When Lily receives a letter in the post, her pilgrimage to Kowloon begins, and her life’s purpose becomes the uncovering of her family’s skeletons.

This was a wonderful work of storytelling, so detailed and intricate. Wharton’s skill allows us to follow both women at once, compare their stories, and see their similarities and contrasts laid bare. Both lives are flawed, reserved, and it becomes plain to us as well as Lily that this quest for information is the only way we can heal.

There’s true examination here of belonging; Sook-Yin found herself too Eastern for London and too Western for Kowloon, stuck in a middling limbo where racial tensions were a constant force. This void of acceptance also stuck to Lily as a child of both Eastern and Western parents; giving us the heartbreakingly uncomfortable title. I thought a lot about this, but don’t have any clever conclusions, only sadness.

And yet, one thing which binds us all is family and their dysfunctions. Surely there’s no culture in the world which doesn’t struggle with family.