The Mirror of Karma and The 4 Sisters

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Alicia Hou has made a brave attempt depicting a Chinese legacy. She has woven an intricate tapestry of lineage, tradition, and relationship, and laced it with deep colors of secret, betrayal, and restoration. The Mirror of Karma and The 4 Sisters is a constructed chorus of voices spilling story throughout it. Mimi Kingsbury, the narrator, is a sixteen-year-old girl whose mother has fled China in search of new beginnings, only taking with her Gigi, her oldest daughter, and a knapsack full of clandestine memories. On the journey from China to Panama, where they immigrate to, we meet many characters from the past, present, and some who claim to know the future. The family secrets come rushing to the surface, children left behind, now adults, and longstanding resentments unearthed.

Hou has taken great pains to create such a deeply rooted story, however there are many weeds along the way. As with any story with multiple characters and generations there comes the risk of confusing the reader. She has eliminated much of the preliminary wonder by providing an extensive introduction, complete with twenty-one character sketches and their caricatures. However, once the meat of the story begins, all of the characters begin to jumble around, and it is necessary to keep flipping to the front to keep them all straight, at least until you become quaint with the story. It is a nice touch with the introduction, but it would have been better suited to simply knit them into the story, it would have made for a much more significant impact, a way to bring the characters to life; without it, they just fell flat. Another challenge with the novel is with the language and tenses. She flips from past to present within the same line throughout, and the reading feels interrupted. There are definitive language errors, the writing is basic, and it never flows. There is a lack of description where the story could really take off; instead she relies on exposition to tell the entire backdrop, as well as what is happening in the moment and offers random sketches throughout. With such an intriguing storyline, I was truly hoping for a Joy Luck Club feel, but no such luck here.

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Star Count 1/5
Format Trade
Page Count 211 pages
Publisher Dorrance Publishing Co. Inc
Publish Date 25-Aug-2010
ISBN 9781434907288 Buy this Book
Issue May 2011
Category Popular Fiction


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