Samantha and Penny are sisters and Penny lives at home with her mother in Vancouver, British Columbia. Samantha has just flown in from Montreal where she has been living for the past 6 years and is feeling a bit jet lagged as she enters the yard at the back of the house. There is a crackling fire ablaze in the backyard and her mother is burning all her grandfather's old, wolly clothing. She is just champing-at-the-bit and orders Samantha inside to help her sister. There are 3 other sisters in the family: Wendy, Jackie and Daisy of which Samantha is the youngest.
Penny is on her hands and knees in her grandfather's room ripping up the old red carpet that he brought with him from his apartment in Chinatown when he moved in. Mother is in a hurry to get rid of grandfather's "junk" before Penny and Adam get married so (in her terms), "quickly" and tells her she is an: "inconsiderate girl!" Penny doesn't understand why mother is so upset, after all she has been engaged for a month and grandfather has been dead for ten years! She's had 120 months to clean out his room. Penny figures her mother thought grandfather's death wasn't as important or as lucky as their father's because it took her only one weeek to burn everything of his!
While cleaning out his dresser, Samantha finds a yellowed document, cracked with age that read: "Chan Seid Quan...June 27, 1913 arrived at Vancouver, B.C. on the Empress of India." She knew he kept this because he never wanted to forget when his new life began. He owned a barber shop in Chinatown.
From here, the story turns to grandfather and his arrival and struggles in Canada; his first job, his return trip to China to wed Shew Lin, and again for the birth of each of his 3 children; his trek back to Canada, and his takeover of the barber shop he would both own and work in for the rest of his life.
I wasn't sure at first whether I was going to like this story or not but surprise, surprise, it provided such deep and insightful information about each of the characters that I was totally taken aback. The novel provoked contemplation and emotions without effort. A quick read and a beautiful story.
May 13, 2011