This is a clever, beautifully constructed novel – some people would say that it was circular, but I see it more as a series of overlapping loops. Where they touch, the plot changes it’s direction and the life of the protagonist, Ursula, takes a different path, as do the lives of the other characters. Ursula is born, dies immediately: is born and lives to be five; is born and lives to be twelve; and so on, until she lives out her proper span.
Henry Lee, a middle-aged Chinese American, watches in fascination as an old Seattle hotel, boarded up for forty years, is re-opened by its new owners. In the basement, a startling discovery is made – the belongings, in trunks and suitcases, of Japanese families who had been arrested and incarcerated in camps just after the attack on Pearl Harbour, under suspicion of being enemy spies.
A glimpse of a brightly coloured parasol catapults Henry back to his childhood and to poignant memories.