by Aimee Liu
Publisher: Warner Books
Pub. Date: February 2003
During a time when Americans are so consumed by the threat of war, Aimee Liu's 'Flash House' offers a brief history lesson that shines light on current global politics. As always, Liu has clearly done her homework, finely tuning her background information while engaging the reader in a suspenseful and detailed work of fiction. Alternating between both first- and third-person narrative styles, Liu gives such depth and complexity to her characters. With a procured hand, Liu creates an entertaining, beautifully visual adventure.
Beginning in post-WWII New Delhi, the story centers on four characters: Joanna, Aidan, Lawrence, and Kamla. Joanna Shaw is an American social worker in charge of a state-sponsored shelter that rescues underage girls from the red-light district. That is , until her husband turns up missing. Aidan Shaw is her husband, a Chinese-American journalist trapped and believed dead in China under strange and eluding circumstances. Lawrence Malcolm, Aidan's proclaimed best friend, is a spy deployed by Australian intelligence to locate and rescue the missing journalist. And then there's Kamla, a turquoise-eyed, eleven year-old orphan girl who's desperate for affection and has nothing to lose.
Book One covers March to June in 1949 in just over 200 pages. A slow pace gives plenty of time for holes in the past to be filled in, but leaves the reader clueless about each character's underlying motivations. The trek from New Delhi to Tihwa on which they embark, a six-week journey by caravan, makes great use of current buzz-words that spark the attention of most Americans; such as Muslim, Kabul, Pakistan, Kashmir, and anti-American. A sort of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? in scripted form, cryptic clues and mysterious sightings of Aidan lead the trio to a disturbing dead end. Crossing through many war-torn countries with heavily guarded borders, the historical entwining provides a clearer understanding of the unstable political relations, then and now.
Book Two extends from July 1949 to December 1950 and completes the book. Here, answers to questions are found, motivations revealed, lives changed. A sense of defeat stagnates the air. Joanna and Lawrence begin to accept that Aidan is not coming back as romantic passion drives up the stakes of the game as Lawrence and Joanna find comfort in each other. However, as relations between all the characters begin to falter, extraordinary circumstances that once unified now only expose hidden truths and threaten each individual with self-inflicted destruction.
Written in the five years that preceded the terrorist attacks of September 11th, Liu has really hit the right mark, giving Americans just what they desire: a hard-boiled historical overview that exposes harrowing political insight. In the end, it's each character's strength, perseverance, sacrifice, chivalry, and undying love that are worthy of celebration in Liu's triumph.