Red Oblivion

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Member Reviews

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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