Published by Harper
Publication date: April 14th 2015
Genres: Cultural, Fiction, Historical
Diamond Head is an ambitious debut from the school of Amy Tan multi-generational Chinese family drama. The Leongs are the premier family living on Oahu where they settle after leaving China prior to World War I. First time novelist Cecily Wong does an admirable job portraying the inter-generational relationships amongst the Leong women. She captures those that reflect the racial heritage and also strikes deep to the not-so-simple mother-daughter dynamic. The key voices in the novel are Lin, the matriarch, her daughter-in-law Amy and her daughter, Theresa. For Lin, there is such gratitude to her husband for rescuing her from a life of abuse for being a lowly daughter that she never questions any of his other actions. Amy has grown up in poverty with a mother who married rashly only to discover that her husband had no intention of ever providing for their growing family. This leaves her to make her marital choice with security as the paramount concern despite having being in love with another man. For eighteen-year-old Theresa, despite being the granddaughter of one of the island’s wealthiest men, life is confusing.
…even at twelve years old, I began to understand that there was something very strange about my family. That there were things meant to be held up for the attention of the world, things to be admired from the outside, and things that were better left in the darkness…
The relationships and historical aspects of Diamond Head make for fascinating reading so it is curious that Wong chooses to introduce a murder 2/3 of the way through the book. From this point on, the drama increases exponentially as secret after secret is revealed. This plethora of plot points feels unnecessary element and throws the pacing off. And while Wong allows each narrator (Lin, Amy, Theresa) to speak in the 1st person she shifts to the 3rd person for the present day; going from the intimacy of one to the more subjective of the other is jarring, especially further into the story. These seismic shifts in an otherwise engrossing generational character study work against the novel’s natural flow and while they don’t cause Diamond Head to completely crumble they serve to weaken its inherent strength. When the dust settles, it’s a like not a love.