Book Review: The Border of Paradise by Esme Weijun Wang

4/5 Stars

This dark and disturbing book examines the way that mental illness can impact an entire family.

It starts with David, a neurotic young boy who inherits his family fortune. As a young adult, David travels to Taiwan and meets a woman at a brothel whom he marries and takes back to America to start a family.

We know from the opening chapter that David commits suicide when his children are still young, and this sets the gothic tone for everything that follows. The effect this has on the rest of their lives is staggering. Left with a mother who suffers from her own form of madness, David’s children, William and Gillian, are kept isolated from the world in their rural California home.

In this multi-generational story, we are given alternating first-person sections for each member of the family—plus one of David’s old lovers who is also swept into their orbit. What transpires is nothing short of disturbing, with an underlying sense that they are all doomed to tragedy.

It’s a potent, complex and exciting debut. After a slow start, it becomes relentlessly gripping once the focus shifts to William and Gillian, culminating in a deeply haunting final section.

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