Cover Image: Red Oblivion

Red Oblivion

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Member Reviews

3 "solid but middling" stars !!

Thank you to Netgalley, the author and Dundurn for an ebook in exchange for a review. This was released in September 2019.

This is a novel that has a lot to offer to the reader. Two sisters are called from their lives in Toronto to their dying father in Hong Kong. There, one of the sisters becomes obsessed in figuring out her father's history and who might be blackmailing him for money. She discovers family secrets and we are thrown back to China's history in the time of Mao. Allegiances frequently change and many cruelties are inflicted. What role did the father play ? Is he hero or villain or both? Is this what makes him the terribly difficult man that he is today. Personal and national history are explored along with a romantic interest and sisterly rivalries.

I do not want to dissuade anybody from reading this but I struggled to stay engaged with the story and I found the writing inconsistent and not always of literary quality.

A solid book that was a good-enoough read but not a very good or excellent one.
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Red Oblivion is not so much a mystery - or at least a 'traditional' mystery - as it is a family drama. Two sisters travel to Hong Kong to be with their dying father. Both sisters grow and learn from this trip but in a way that goes beyond 'traveling'. It's an exploration into modern Hong Kong and family relationships and secrets. 

Leslie Shimotakahara has written a book that digs deep into a reader's heart. She is a powerful writer and I expect great things to come from her. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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I think this was a bad pick from my part, it just wasn't for me. I appreciate it as what it is, just not my thing.
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Unfortunately, this was not one of my favorite books of the year.

A major part of the fault is mine. Netgalley had this categorized both as general adult fiction and mystery/thriller. This book has mystery elements, but is not a traditional mystery; the answers to Jill’s questions will be obvious to anyone who reads many mysteries. It certainly isn’t a thriller, either.

That’s not a knock. It’s just to say that it’s literary, I expected mystery, and my expectations were not met.

(This has happened before with certain books. I’ve made a note to myself to be more careful with what I request on NetGalley. If it’s categorized as both general/literary fiction and mystery/thriller, I’ll assume that it’s more the former than the latter. I hope to avoid this situation in the future, as it's not fair to authors.)  

Number 2 on the list of things that are my fault: I have never identified with stories where a sisterly relationship is a large factor. (Which may have been part of the issue with Fishnet, come to think of it.) While Jill and Celeste’s relationship isn’t the driving force in this story, it’s still a large part and as an only child, I couldn’t understand it.

Neither is the author’s fault. But it still influenced how I read this novel. However, there was a lot to like about this book.

1.  The writing quality
Shimotakahara has a lovely way with words. For the most part, her storytelling skills are top-notch. While I did feel that the pace dragged in many places, it wasn’t as slow as many literary novels I’ve read.

2.  Cultural details
She paints a vivid image of a city of contradictions: modern technology exists beside old fashioned ways, such as clothes lines. (The cheap cost of housekeepers justifies the lack of a dryer or dishwasher.) Cantonese mixes with English words. Jill tells us, “Words like okay and anyway and cool and what the f— and see ya always get said in English, for some reason.” (chapter 1)

It’s a city where the new never fully obliterates the old. The past is always there: Mao’s Red Guards, the impact of World War II on Hong Kong, the Cultural Revolutions of the mid-1960s. All of these still influence the residents of Hong Kong, particularly the older people like Ba, who lived through it.

3.  The characters
Jill, Ba, and Celeste are well-developed characters. While I was unsure if I found Jill likable, I did sympathize with her issues. Her life revolves around her father’s desires. Even when she’s rebelling against them, his desires are still determining her actions: what she won’t do.

There were some things I didn't enjoy, though. At several points, Jill is reading from a memoir. As both the memoir and the story are told from a first person point of view, it was difficult to shift between the two because of a lack of any distinguishing marks. (Nothing's set apart in italics or quotation marks, that sort of thing.) I hope the final print edition corrects this. The memoir is fascinating, though. 

I was unconvinced by Jill's friendship with Terence, her only Hong Kong friend. To me, they didn't seem like old friends. Also, the climax felt underwhelming. 

Overall, this is a solid novel. It wasn’t really to my taste. But for those who like literary fiction, this is a good choice.

Thanks to NetGalley and Dundurn Press for a copy of Red Oblivion in exchange for an honest review. 
(This review will be posted on my blog on 10/18/19).
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Jill and her sister Celeste moved from Hong Kong to Toronto years ago but now they've come back to see to their elderly father who is ill.  Jill, the older and favored daughter, find herself intrigued and concerned by messages which were sent to him.  She's never known the truth, she knows, of the origins of his wealth and, equally importantly, how he made it to Hong Kong from Guangzhou during a time of great upheaval in China.  What did he do during the Cultural Revolution?  That's the mystery at the heart of this story of a daughter's search not only for her father's history but her own.  Is he the man she thought he was?  Does what he did then matter now?  It helps, I think, to have some understanding of Chinese history but Shimotakahara does an excellent job with helping those who d not appreciate it.  Great sense of place.  Thanks to the publisher for the ARC. It's well written and thoughtful.
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Is it possible to have a relationship with one’s parents that isn’t loaded with emotional baggage? Those of us who are lucky have many more good memories than painful ones. Jill Lau has plenty of problems with her father but, in Leslie Shimotakahara’s Red Oblivion, she discovers that there are whole skeletons in her family’s closet that she didn’t even know about.

At the beginning of Red Oblivion, Jill and her sister are on their way to Hong Kong after getting the call that every child dreads: the call that informs them that their father is in the hospital and might not make it out. The sisters went to college in Toronto and never went home again, grateful beyond words to be away from their cold, relentless parents. As soon as we meet Lau père, all of Jill’s concerns make sense. Her father has planned out Jill’s whole life, regardless of the fact that she’s spent more than a decade in another country.

Jill quickly finds out that her father’s collapse was caused by some photographs someone had sent him from mainland China. The photos don’t do much more than hint at old secrets. They give enough of a hint, though, that Jill starts to question her father’s stories about his past as a man who survived the Cultural Revolution with a bit of luck to reinvent himself as a self-made business man. When her father stonewalls, Jill starts to ask more questions—especially when she receives her own mysterious parcel in the mail.

Red Oblivion is the story of a daughter wrestling with her father’s expectations, her sense of duty, feelings of being trapped, and her angry bewilderment about her father’s real past. It is a moving—and deeply honest—portrait of a family that desperately needs to let go of its baggage, so that they can move into a better future.
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a remarkably well written and  emotional novel. The characters, while not always likeable, are at least understood. The father is an enigmatic and secretive man who seems burdened by guilt and shame. This is my first book by this author and I am cant wait for her next novel.
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Two sisters, Jill and Celeste Lau, traveled from Toronto to Hong Kong after receiving a phone call that their ninety-four year old father was gravely ill. Ba's housekeeper informed them that their father had experienced sleeplessness and lack of appetite since two letters postmarked from Guangzhou arrived. These anonymous mailings and Ba's concern about possible subsequent communications are somehow linked to his secretive past in Guangzhou, his escape to Hong Kong during The Cultural Revolution, and his amassing wealth.

"Ba has simply always liked the tacility of money. It's like satin to his fingertips...not that he's ever put much stock in comfort, his own or others...The self-entitled frugality, the insistence on his way or the highway..." Celeste felt that Ba "raised our family like a business..." Jill and Celeste were fed implausible tales of escape and how Ba made his fortune. Jill's thoughts- "...I assumed that in reality Ba was ashamed of the way he'd made his escape." Jill stayed on in Hong Kong in an attempt to discover what acts of desperation committed by Ba would make "someone from the old days" in Guangzhou continue to haunt him. Celeste, unable to cope with Ba, returned to Toronto. Is the truth knowable? Should the daughters just be grateful that Ba provided them with a "lush life" even if built upon corrupt behavior? Ba's lips are sealed. No confession of wrongdoing is forthcoming.

"Red Oblivion" by Leslie Shimotakahara is a work of historical fiction exploring Guangzhou, China during The Cultural Revolution. Chaos and deprivation arguably set the stage for unscrupulous behavior. The tome explored strained family relationships and presented a window into cultural revolution struggles which included hard labor, arbitrary imprisonment and seizure of property.

Thank you Dundurn Press and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "Red Oblivion".
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Red Oblivion is one of those books that keeps reeling a person in. It's engaging from the start, but the more one gets to know the characters and the complexities of their relationships, the harder it becomes to put down. Some of the characters are difficult to like, but one wants to remain in their company anyway, both to understand them and to watch the development in their relationships with one another. The book offers a fascinating look into contemporary Hong Kong and the Cultural Revolution. Two sisters fly home to Hong Kong when their father is hospitalized. Their relationship with one another is strained, the relationship each has with her father is even more strained. When it becomes clear that their father's business success may be due to unscrupulous dealings during the Cultural Revolution, both women have to make decisions about how far they want to go to understand their own family's history.
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This book moved me. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Loved the relationships and resilience of the characters! Thank you for the review copy! Will be recommending to the rest of my friends here in Asia!
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This book is one that took me by complete and utter surprise, in the best way possible! Although I was intrigued by the synopsis, I wasn’t certain that I would enjoy it once I actually got round to starting it but I was so wrong. I literally read Red Oblivion from cover to cover, in a single day. I was so engrossed by the story of two sisters and their ailing father and the beautiful way that Leslie Shimotakahara has crafted it all. I also really enjoyed the historical facts which are woven in to the story. I must admit prior to reading I didn’t know much about the Cultural Revolution in China, but after reading, it’s something I want to know more about and educate myself on for sure.

I always appreciate when a book catches me off guard and has an emotional pull and I feel like Red Oblivion does this for me in so many ways. Starting from the familial relationships explored within the novel. There’s the most prominent one between Jill and her father, as well as the portrayal of a strained sisterly bond between Jill and her younger sister, Celeste. Jills father or ‘Ba’ as he is referred to for the majority of the novel, is a secretive and complicated man, who has always had issues with his daughters choices in life. However, when he falls gravely ill, they both come to his side despite any disagreements in the past. Ba is a hard man to know and harder to love as a character due to his treatment of his family at times. However, because of Shimotakahara’s skilful writing, you feel empathy for him at certain points as he has definitely sacrificed a lot for his family and nothing is truly black and white.

While the novel drags a bit in places and I think some readers might be put off by this, it wasn’t a deal breaker for me. One thing I feel like could have been improved was the climax of the novel. There was all this build up to what the secret in Ba’s past was and I feel like it was a little anti climactic as Jill and in turn, we had more or less figured it out by that point.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Red Oblivion and I would recommend it to any readers who enjoy family centric narratives with beautiful and haunting prose.
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Jill and her sister Celeste leave their homes in Canada to travel to Hong Kong, where their father lies dying in a hospital bed.  Jill finds a letter, which seems to be exhorting or blackmailing her father.  When she asks about the letter, he becomes agitated, and his health further declines.  Determined to uncover the truth, Jill tracks down the letter's author.

Although I thought the story line and premise was interesting, I felt that nothing was really resolved in the book.  Jill only uncover vague, incomplete stories.  Much of the book is her speculating about what her father may have done.  I found this a bit unsatisfying.  Based on this criticism, I give this book a 3 out of 5 stars.
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Red Oblivion by Leslie Shimotakahara

The writing is pure pleasure, the history of Mao and China’s Cultural Revolution is interesting, and the characters are well portrayed. I was ready to give this book 5 stars until it got so bogged down in protagonist Jill’s unrelenting search for the truth of her father’s past, that I was begging for answers myself. 

Jill and her sister Celeste are called from their homes in Toronto to their dying father’s bedside in Hong Kong. Jill gets caught up in some mail sent to her father by people unknown to her. There are some gaps in Ba’s version of his life before his arrival in Hong Kong, but Ba continues to resist any kind of confession of wrong doing, even on his deathbed. 

Jill’s guilt in spending Ba’s ill-gotten money is what drives her in her dogged quest for answers as to how he got his wealth. Her relationship with her father has always been tentative. Regrets exist. Issues are unresolved. 

There are many good things about this story, but there are also issues that hold it back. Some of the transitions are awkward, and the story drags in places, but Shimotakahara is an excellent writer and story teller, with a solid 4 star tale 

My thanks to #NetGalley and #DundurnPress for a copy of this book for my review.
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5 Stars

What a remarkable and heartfelt tale.  

Jill Lau and her sister Celeste rush to Hong Kong from where they live in Toronto to be at their gravely ill father's bedside. 

This book takes the reader on a journey. Jill must come to terms with her father's past. It has now become clear that he did some very bad things to get out of Guangzhou, China during the Cultural Revolution in order that he may return to Hong Kong. But what? She is driven to find out. Meanwhile sister Celeste thinks little of her father. Perhaps she sees him not through the rose colored glasses of Jill, but rather more honestly? Jill and Celeste clearly love one another, but their relationship is fraught with bickering and fights. 

Determined to find out her father's past about which he refuses to speak, she traces his journey. What she finds out is that her father is all too human. 

Remarkably well written, Ms. Shimotakahara pours emotion into this novel. The characters, while not always likeable, are at least understood. The father is an enigmatic and secretive man who seems burdened by guilt and shame. This is my second book by this author and I am anxiously awaiting her next novel. 

I want to thank NetGalley and Dundurn forwarding to me a copy of this outstanding book for me to read, enjoy and review.
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A heart-wrenching tale of hope and resilience. The intimate writing and evocative descriptions touched my heart.
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