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Diamond Head: A Novel by Cecily Wong

Diamond Head: A Novel

by Cecily Wong

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A multi-generational story of a family which immigrates from China to Hawaii should have been exactly my cup of tea, but this book just didn't come together for me. I don't know if I just wasn't into the story or if it was the writing (also, the novel was very much nonlinear), but I never really got into this story. If you like Hawaii and historical fiction, I hope you would find this book more interesting than I did. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Jul 1, 2017 |
This was a bit of an up and down read for me. The story had lots of potential, and there were moments of wonderful writing; but though there was much to like and appreciate in Wong's debut novel, I found it very inconsistent.

It's a busy story - multi-generational, back and forth in time, a couple of mysteries, and the Chinese (folkloric/legend) belief in the 'red string of fate' serving as, I guess, the anchor and guide through the novel. The red string of fate is a really interesting idea - that one is fated in love to another, through an invisible red string. But bad decisions, choices, and things one does which go against fate causes knots to be created in the string - and these knots have a ripple effect, causing burdens and bad luck down through the generations.

The strengths of the story for me were the settings (in particular, Hawaii - I have not read a lot of fiction set here), the strong female characters, and the span of time and generations. The weaknesses included not quite pulling off this ambitious project and not making best use of characters. (For example, I loved Hong -- her story could be its own novel. She was a strong presence in the story, but as with most of the characters so little makes it to the surface.) The pacing and the ending were also awkward for me, and I also experienced a weird frustration over a typo -- in referencing Amy sewing, the foot pedal was noted as a 'foot petal'.

So, a bit of an uneven experience with this book, but I will check out Wong's next book hoping to find some more of her potential realized. ( )
  Booktrovert | Jul 24, 2016 |
I hesitate to say too much about this novel, about the characters and their experiences, as anything might be considered a spoiler. I will say that at the helm of the family is Frank Leong, a wealthy business man who has made his fortune in the shipping industry. When tensions become high in his home country of China, he moves his family to the island of Oahu. Life seems idyllic for the family as they settle in their new home. Only, tragedy strikes in the form of a murder. And with it, secrets that come out are quickly hidden again as the surviving family members struggle to rebuild their lives. Years later, with another death in the family, the youngest Leong, eighteen year old Theresa, finds out the truths long kept secret and how the mistakes of the past, those of her ancestors, touch her own life.

As I closed Cecily Wong's Diamond Head, I sat a moment, reflecting, tears running down my cheeks. I was not ready for it to end. I found this novel to be a quiet one mostly, an inside look at a family's successes and failures and how decisions made by one person come to impact others, sometimes across generations. It's a theme I find myself drawn to again and again in novels.

Cecily Wong does not write in a linear fashion; her story is told in flashbacks, not always in order, spanning the early 1900's up until 1964. It works well for this novel; Wong weaves the various narratives and time periods together expertly. Diamond Head has a strong sense of place. I could feel the magic of Hawaii when Lin Leong, Frank's wife, first sets foot on the island on Oahu. Cecily Wong brings both China and Hawaii alive with her words as she shares the story of the Leongs with her reader.

The story of the red string of fate binding together true love partners runs throughout the novel in one form or another. And in that way, Diamond Head is very much a love story, albeit a tragic one more often than not. It is also the story of family and of the choices we make--or don't make--as well as of redemption. The talk of fate weighs heavily on the pages; it weighs on the characters, like the knots that form in the red string when they stray from their fate, how it can hurt and punish. Each of the characters in the novel has their own story to tell, and, through the women, we get to know not only the stories but how they are interconnected. I liked that the reader gets the opportunity to know each of the women from their own perspectives as well as from each others.

At various points in the novel I wished for different fates for the characters, that they could have made different choices, seeing the direction their choices were likely to lead. And yet, had they made different choices, would their circumstances been better? Many times, the characters thought so--which in an of itself is sad. There were a lot of regrets, guilt and sacrifice. Within that though, there was also joy and hope.

I ached for Lin, the abuse she suffered as a child to the betrayal she suffered later in her life. My heart broke for Hong who lost the love of her life. I suffered with her during her long journey to her husband's brother's house with her shoes falling apart, hunger eating away at her, admiring her strength all the while. I wrung my hands and cried with Amy as she had to make the hardest decision of her life: a choice between love and family. And I felt Theresa's anguish for what she was going through, alone. I also felt for the men in the novel: Bohai and his brother Kaipo, and their father, whose mistakes reverberated long after his death.

The novel is told over the span of many decades, touching on the Boxer Rebellion in China, the tensions in the country at that time, through the beginning of World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor up through 1964. As a lover of history, I would not have minded a deeper look into the history of Hawaii itself during the stretch of time encompassing the story, but so much else was going on in the lives of the characters, I am not sure how it would have been fit in.

I found Diamond Head to be beautifully written, and the characters intricately drawn. I was swept into the story and into the lives of the characters, caring about them and dreaming along side them. The ending did seem a bit abrupt on one hand, at least where one of the characters was concerned, but for some of the characters it was quite satisfying. My tears were testament to that. ( )
  LiteraryFeline | May 22, 2015 |
Diamond Head by Cecily Wong is an exceptionally well-written family saga covering the Leong family spanning three generations and narrated by the women of the family. I thoroughly enjoyed this stunning debut and recommend it to those who enjoy rich family history and to book discussion groups. ( )
  knittingmomof3 | Apr 25, 2015 |
Diamond Head is a story of one family, the Leongs, told in three different time periods and two different countries. The family starts out in China where the patriarch, Frank builds a large shipping company. He is married to Lin and his sons are Bohai and Kopai. The second generation focuses most on Bohai and his wife Amy and third generation is the story of their daughter Theresa who is pregnant at 19. There are other characters that come in and out of the tale at different times and places but the book is about these core characters.

I realize that what I just wrote sounds impossibly dry and I wish I didn’t because this book is anything but – it’s rich in detail about China and Hawaii and the characters are finely wrought. Ms. Wong has her readers get to know the people who inhabit the book slowly and carefully and their personalities are built piece by piece as you learn little bits about each one as they go through their lives. The characters live in dangerous times in both China as the Boxer Rebellion occurs and then after they move to Hawaii WWII draws the US in with that infamous attach on Pearl Harbor.

It is more a book about family dynamics and relationships than it is a book about love and romance despite the existence of both within its pages. There are many a twist and turn and despite having finishing it I still feel that there are questions to be addressed. I am still thinking about these characters – they have stayed with me. Their stories so dramatic and so simple all at once. I do think there could be a sequel. I do hope there is a sequel. ( )
  BrokenTeepee | Apr 17, 2015 |
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For Read, who never let me quit. For my parents, who planted roots and let me grow.
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Inside the car, it smells like hibiscus.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062345435, Hardcover)

A sweeping debut spanning from China to Hawaii that follows four generations of a wealthy shipping family whose rise and decline is riddled with secrets and tragic love—from a young, powerful new voice in fiction.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, Frank Leong, a fabulously wealthy shipping industrialist, moves his family from China to the island of Oahu. But something ancient follows the Leongs to Hawaii, haunting them. The parable of the red string of fate, the cord that binds one intended beloved to her perfect match, also punishes for mistakes in love, passing a destructive knot down the family line.

When Frank Leong is murdered, his family is thrown into a perilous downward spiral. Left to rebuild in their patriarch’s shadow, the surviving members of the Leong family try their hand at a new, ordinary life, vowing to bury their gilded past. Still, the island continues to whisper—fragmented pieces of truth and chatter, until a letter arrives two decades later, carrying a confession that shatters the family even further.

Now the Leongs’ survival rests with young Theresa, Frank Leong’s only grandchild, eighteen and pregnant, the heir apparent to her ancestors’ punishing knots.

Told through the eyes of the Leong’s secret-keeping daughters and wives and spanning The Boxer Rebellion to Pearl Harbor to 1960s Hawaii, Diamond Head is a breathtakingly powerful tale of tragic love, shocking lies, poignant compromise, aching loss, heroic acts of sacrifice and, miraculous hope.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:38 -0400)

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