Under Your Wings by Tiffany Tsao
I am still reeling from this book at the time of reviewing it and I think it is also partly responsible for the strange dreams I have been having over the past few days. Tiffany Tsao’s novel of sisters Gwendolyn and Estella is haunting, disturbing and vivid. It is one of those novels that has such a strong opening chapter that I questioned if the author would be able to meet my expectations for the rest of the novel. But meet them she did.
Gwendolyn and Estella are part of the large and affluent Sulinado family, a Chinese family who has set up business in Indonesia primarily in the textile industry. Gwendolyn and Estella are close when they are younger but drift apart due, predominantly, to Gwendolyn’s foray into her own business and Estella’s troubled and suffocating marriage. The sisters unite prior to their grandfather’s eightieth birthday as they stumble across a family secret which eventually leads Estella to commit an act of horrifying proportions.
It is remarkable how much is packed into this 270-page novel. The plot is enthralling in itself, but additionally there is the examination of a family who are cocooned in wealth and privilege, where emotions are not directly addressed and outsiders are viewed with suspicion. Tsao cleverly uses the sisters’ fascination with entomology (the study of insects) to create metaphors for how the family operates; its hierarchy, its instinct to protect and its necessity for sacrifice.
Already much is being made of the book’s conclusion. Some may view it as a surprise but to me it is a cleverly constructed ending that others may already suspect as it makes so much sense when you reflect back on the rest of the novel. Regardless, it is a satisfying conclusion to a novel that already had me gripped from the first paragraph.