Family is tough. No matter how you grew up, how you turned out, family is a very hard concept to work through. There isn’t a rulebook, there isn’t a one size fits all solution to being a cohesive family unit, there isn’t a right answer. I grew up in a lower middle class family (like so many others); my mom remarried when I was young (like so many others); I had a sister, a brother, a step-sister, and a step-brother (like so many others). I had a hard time (like everyone).
Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung is about family. That’s an incredibly broad statement and can really apply to any book when you think about it, but, truly, that is what this book is about. The narrator (she’s unnamed which was a bit confusing when sitting down to write this, did I forget her name? No, it just doesn’t exist) is chronicling her life while telling stories of her grandmother’s and mother’s lives in Hong Kong.
In the mid-90’s, our heroine and her family move to Toronto from Hong Kong before the 1997 Handover takes place. The Handover (from my very general understanding) was when the British were handing sovereignty of Hong Kong over to China. Please do not ask me questions, I don’t know anything else. Many families were moving from Hong Kong as they were unsure of how their lives would change after the Handover was completed. Her father stays back in Hong Kong in order to earn money to send off to them in Toronto. This was a common phenomenon during that time, common enough that fathers earned the title “Astronaut Fathers”.
The bulk of the story is about the narrator’s father’s death. She spends a majority of the book at his bedside, asking for stories about his life. A lot of these stories meander into the narrator’s life and how it effects her. It’s an incredibly personal journey for her, it informs so many parts of her life from religion to love to parenthood.
This book, folks. This is definitely a contender for best of the year for me. The prose is beautiful. The story is incredibly personal, but doesn’t feel voyeuristic. I absolutely loved this book. Not to mention, I learned so much about Hong Kong and their customs, especially their religion. Highly, highly recommended. 5/5, 10/10.
I’m a parent now, so I’m creating my own family. Creating my own customs. Creating my own life. It’s hard. It’s always going to be hard. But, within that difficulty, there is joy and hope and fun and love. So goddamn much love. Family is hard. Family is so worth it.
Make sure to pick up Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung at your favorite indie on July 13th, 2021.
Thanks, NetGalley for the eARC!