A cross-cultural coming-of-age story that tackles the weighty issues of depression and suicide in an unflinching manner, Jade Moon Le’s Invisible Orphans is a powerful recounting of “a love story evolved by serendipity with a twist of fate.” As such, it is arguably above all things a meditation on memory, both the good and the bad, as main character Vivi experiences detachment from the world and oscillates between tears following the realization that she has lost memories and sorrow when other memories come flooding back unbidden.
Although told in a non-linear fashion, Invisible Orphans relates the sometimes turbulent course of the relationship between Hong Konger Vivi and American Matthew from their initial meeting on Hainan Island in China, through their courtship, eventual marriage, year spent working in China, and decision to settle on a portion of Matthew’s family farmland in Indiana, and on to Vivi’s attempts to make sense of the world following Matthew’s suicide.
Once back in the United States, Matthew worked as the director of the landscaping department at Notre Dame while Vivi pursued her postgraduate studies in architecture. In their free time, they worked on cultivating their new land and Vivi slowly came to learn about Matthew’s tragic family history, mainly from his Aunt Berenice but eventually also from previously reticent friends and family members. The family had a history of depression and suicide, although Vivi was slow to spot related symptoms in Matthew.
In fact, the severity of Matthew’s struggles really only became apparent when he dejectedly took to his bed after failing to save an ancient white pine tree located near the university campus from being cut down for safety reasons. So began an obsession with protecting white pine trees, although his deep love for the natural world, and for trees in particular, had been apparent from the outset of his relationship with Vivi.
Given this strand of Matthew’s character, it should come as no surprise that the descriptions of nature and geography in Invisible Orphans are vibrant and compelling, especially those related during the couple’s trip on the Yangtze River, where they were able to experience the famous Three Gorges. Indeed, the settings of the various scenes from Vivi’s and Matthew’s lives are often portrayed more strongly than the characters who feature in them, particularly the numerous supporting players who pop up to relate something expositional and then quickly fade away.
The structure of the story also makes it difficult to fully grasp the characters, as the sudden scene endings and frequent time shifts sometimes result in a lack of character depth and an inability to focus on key issues, even particularly poignant ones. Still, as a whole Invisible Orphans is a captivating story, dealing as it does with highly emotive issues and injecting pathos throughout the different time periods and events. Vivi is an absorbing main character and her all-too-human struggles, both before and after Matthew’s death, steer the story along and draw the reader in.
|Author||Jade Moon Le|
|Page Count||234 pages|
|Publisher||Rare Bird Book|
|Bookshop.org||Buy this Book|