Select one of the keywords
Flash House    by Aimee Liu order for
Flash House
by Aimee Liu
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2003 (2003)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The story begins in 1949 in New Delhi, India as American journalist Aidan Shaw kisses goodbye to his social worker wife Joanna. She dreams of snow and recalls their first meeting in a fun house Hall of Mirrors. But it's not Aidan's tale, though he provides the mystery that is its backdrop. He's off to Kashmir's Border War to find a story that might salvage a career tarnished by suspicion of Communist leanings (this is the McCarthy era in the U.S.). Aidan's Aussie friend Lawrence Malcolm (a man with one metallic grey and one hazel green eye, a tragic past and a fascination with the history of Kipling's Great Game) has suggested the trip. Soon Aidan disappears across the Himalayas.

As Joanna copes with her husband's absence and her small son Simon, another major character steps forward. This is small Kamla, long since sold from the north to a 'flash house', a house of prostitution, where she 'emptied the slop pots, carried the water jugs, washed the sisters' clothes and bedclothes and monthly rags.' Joanna runs Salamat Jannat (a rescue home for prostitutes), and her initial well meaning attempt to help Kamla results in the child's arrest and rape by police officers. But from the beginning Kamla is grateful and loyal to Joanna, and spares her the knowledge that it was her action that caused Kamla's injury. Joanna takes Kamla in and eventually adopts this highly intelligent child of the streets.

A very determined Joanna, Lawrence, Simon and Kamla end up in an expedition in search of Aidan that begins in Leh, Ladakh. Close on Aidan's trail, they find evidence of his passing but eventually lose him in Kamla's birthplace of Sinkiang. Though in unhappy circumstances, Kamla is truly happy, entertained by Lawrence's tales of the Great Game, and drawn to Joanna's strength of character. But after they are forced to give up and return to India, they all wonder what happened to Aidan, and whether it was by his own choice. Back in Delhi, Kamla excels in school, and Joanna receives disquieting news from America. She is also torn between love for her lost husband and her feelings for Lawrence.

As Joanna tries to find out if it's herself or her husband who has been betrayed, and Lawrence investigates all over the world on her behalf, the children are neglected and, from ignorance on both her part and Joanna's, Kamla comes into harm's way. Though she remains strong and copes, a tidal wave builds from her actions that eventually pulls in the others as well. Flash House is a glittering jewel of a tale, in a setting of Asia's cold war. It's all about strong individuals capable of extreme loyalty, but with what the author herself calls 'a mutual ineptitude at love'.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Contemporary books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews