By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
“The Case of the Missing Servant”
By Tarquin Hall
Simon & Schuster, 2010
As the founder and managing director of Most Private Investigators Ltd. in Delhi, Vish Puri makes a living by screening and investigating prospective marriage partners.
But the portly, “self-confessed master of disguise” did not receive the 1999 Super Sleuth plaque from the World Federation of Detectives by following unfaithful fiancés and digging up bad financial reports. He won the title by taking on cases that appear unsolvable or do not seem to need solving.
In “Servant,” Puri is presented with the latter when an honest public litigator from Jaipur is accused of murdering his maidservant. The local police have no doubt about the man’s guilt, but Puri digs deeper to find the truth.
As he works to solve the “Maidservant Murder” — as named by the Indian media — Puri simultaneously looks into the prospective grandson of a national war hero and tries to find the person behind a recent attempt on his life.
“Servant” is filled with loveable characters. Puri, despite his arrogance regarding his investigative skills, is kind and honorable, and he always strives to do what’s right. His undercover operatives admire their boss even when he cracks down on them. My favorite character is Mummy, Puri’s widowed mother who takes it upon herself to find her son’s would-be killer — in spite of his opinion that “detectives were not mummies.”
From public officials who are bought off to a young woman’s gruesome murder, “Servant” could have been quite dark. But Hall balances the darkness with lighthearted humor — much of which comes from Puri’s love of food, despite his wife and doctor’s warning to eat healthier. In fact, food and eating is an ongoing theme in the book, which is reinforced at the end of the book’s glossary with Indian words and phrases, the majority of which are related to food and will undoubtedly leave you craving Indian food once you’re done reading.
By Laura Ling and Lisa Ling
What began as a short trip to the Tumen River, to capture some film for their report about North Korean defectors escaping to China, soon turned into a 140-day nightmare. Laura Ling and Euna Lee are the two women who were arrested by North Korean soldiers, put on trial for attempting to bring down the country’s government, and sentenced to 12 years in a labor camp.
“Somewhere” is the true story of the events, from the time leading up to their arrest to the two women returning to the United States. Told in the alternating voices of Laura Ling and her sister Lisa Ling, we get a first-person account of Laura’s experience in North Korea and Lisa’s relentless efforts to bring her younger sister home.
Despite knowing the happy ending, you can’t help but fear for Laura’s life as she reveals the violence of her arrest. The reader feels for Lisa and the rest of their family as they struggle to find a way to bring the girls home.
“Somewhere” is not only the story of the sisters’ close bond, but also of the compassion that they and their family received from people. From Michael Jackson offering to perform a concert in North Korea to help the two journalists come home, to a prostitute in South Central Los Angeles praying for their return, to North Korean guards sneaking Laura pieces of candy, I was amazed to see how people showed their support.
The depth of animosity between the United States and North Korea is alluded to on almost every page.
However, you can’t help but feel hopeful for the human race when reading about how “enemies” become friends as they interact face to face.
It will remind you that even though we’re all different in many ways, we’re all the same in one way. We are all human.
“A Thread of Sky”
By Deanna Fei
The Penguin Press, 2010
The relationship between a mother and daughter is complicated. The relationship between an Asian mother and daughter is more complicated. The relationship between an Asian mother and Asian American daughter is even more so.
In her debut novel, Deanna Fei explores such relationships in a story about six women from three generations. They travel to China to discover (or rediscover) their roots as well as to reconnect.
Irene Shen organizes the trip after her husband of 30 years dies and she is left alone in the house where they raised their three daughters — two of which are grown and have moved out and one of which is about to move away for college.
As Irene, her daughters Nora, Kay, and Sophie, her sister Susan, and their mother Lin Yulan travel to China on a two-week tour of the country’s “must-see” attractions, it is clear that the reunion that Irene had envisioned will be more difficult than she’d ever expected. Jumping from one woman’s perspective to the next, it soon becomes clear that all six of them bear secrets that hold them back from connecting with the rest. It takes time for them to open up to each other. As a result, they are often awkward and uncomfortable around each other, not knowing how to act, despite being tied together by blood.
One of my favorite things about “Sky” is that these women are far from perfect. They are multifaceted, with good qualities and bad. They are real and have strengths and weaknesses that readers will be able to relate to. Readers will often want to scold these women for their actions. However, readers will also want to comfort them in their time of need and cheer them on during their victories. ♦
Samantha Pak can be reached at email@example.com.