FACE is a searing story about the pain of being different and about the inescapable, often destructive hold of the past.
Growing up in Chinatown, Maibelle Chung felt like an outsider, being only one-fourth Chinese. Her mother was a Midwestern farm girl who fled to New York seeking culture and sophistication; there she married Joe Chung, a photojournalist whose horrifying pictures of China in the 1940s made him famous. Joe abruptly gave up his photographic career -- to his wife's eternal disappointment -- for reasons that Maibelle only gradually discovers. She is a photographer, too, but feels torn about her vocation. Now she finds herself agreeing, almost unwillingly, to collaborate on a book about Chinatown with a childhood friend. While Maibelle works on the project, she also delves into her family history. As her research comes closer and closer to painful truths, the novel creates a haunting atmosphere of restless, unhappy searching and drifting, heightened by an underlying tone of dread.
-New York Times, October 1994
Aimee Liu's first novel exquisitely depicts Maibelle's slow coming to terms with the forces that made her, in a story that is part psychological drama, part rite of passage, part literary exploration of being racially divided, and part mystery.
The protagonist in this type of novel has the difficult job of carrying the entire book squarely on her shoulders, a feat Liu accomplishes easily. We are so much a part of Maibelle's inner life, so intimate with her pain and frustration, that while readers may root for her to find the truth, there is also a nervous sensation of not really wanting to know. Through Maibelle, Chinatown becomes a scary, shiny, complicated place where everyone holds some kind of horrific secret.
- Los Angeles Times, January, 1995
Liu's impressive fiction debut expresses the mingled fear and discomfort with which a woman confronts her heritage -- both as a Chinese-American and as the daughter of a renowned wartime photographer... Liu gets to the heart of the tale when Maibelle calls the old Chinese custom of footbinding "torture," and a friend replies that "in China passion and pain could not be separated." Liu's lyrical prose is graceful and evocative.
- Publisher's Weekly, August, 1994
The power of this enchanting debut novel lies in the evanescence of reality and the stealth of truth. Over a decade after she went public with her account of anorexia nervosa (SOLITAIRE) Liu breaks into fiction with the story of a young woman's search for identity in a complex maze of fact, fiction, nightmares, dreams, history, fantasy, hope, lies, and loss... All the pieces of the heroine's disjointed history create a beautiful mess that comes together at the last moment. Delicate, lyrical, mysterious.
- Kirkus, July, 1994