"A beautiful story beautifully told."
-Robert McKee, author of STORY: SUBSTANCE, STRUCTURE, STYLE, AND THE PRINCIPLES OF SCREENWRITING
Aimee Liu's Flash House races forward into territory that, for most of us, is still almost entirely unknown. The result is an education wrapped in an adventure.
Jack Miles, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur Award, author of GOD: A BIOGRAPHY
An extraordinarily thoughtful and engrossing tale of romance and intrigue; of heroic individuals from disparate cultures caught in the unforgiving vise of history. A story from fifty years ago so new and pertinent it could have been written – and lived – yesterday.
Carolyn See, author of THE HANDYMAN and other novels
Reading this book is like going on an adventure full of surprise and delight. Flash House is both beautifully written and emotionally compelling.
Peter Lefcourt, author of THE DREYFUS AFFAIR and ELEVEN KARENS
Liu's latest novel is part love story, part gripping tale of espionage, and part primer on the tangled early years of the cold war. Journalist Aidan Shaw warned his wife, Joanna, not to expect a quiet life with him, but their existence in post partition New Delhi is relatively tranquil until he disappears while on assignment in Srinagar. Joanna refuses to accept official reports that Aidan is dead, and in the company of his best friend, Lawrence, the Shaws' young son, Simon, and Kamla, a 10 year old girl Joanna has rescued from a brothel, she sets out on a trek across the mountains to find him. What she finds instead are secrets and more secrets, for in Central Asia in 1949, everyone is hiding something--beginning with Aidan himself. Unfolding with the mystery of Aidan's disappearance is the haunting story of Kamla, orphaned and abandoned, determined to survive and passionately devoted to Joanna. Richly evocative prose and a memorable cast of characters should win this novel wide readership."
-Meredith Parets, ALA Booklist (2/15)
During a time when Americans are so consumed by the threat of war, Aimee Liu's Flash House offers a brief history lesson that shines light on current global politics. As always, Liu has clearly done her homework, finely tuning her background information while engaging the reader in a suspenseful and detailed work of fiction. Alternating between both first- and third-person narrative styles, Liu gives… depth and complexity to her characters… creates an entertaining, beautifully visual adventure….
Written in the five years that preceded the terrorist attacks of September 11th, Liu has really hit the right mark, giving Americans just what they desire: a hard-boiled historical overview that exposes harrowing political insight. In the end, it's each character's strength, perseverance, sacrifice, chivalry, and undying love that are worthy of celebration in Liu's triumph.
J.W. Hill, HybridMagazine.com
A Poisoned Pen Offbeat Book Club Pick for February 2003…
A sad, beautiful, ultimately tragic … odyssey through the Himalayas and into the heart of Asia. An evocative novel, part love story, part spy in the tradition of the Great Game, replete with rich imagery of various journeys: a wife for her lost mate, a man in crusading for his beliefs or for redemption; a child's search into the mystery of her birth. As with life, what they find is not always what they seek, and what went wrong was "our mutual ineptitude at love"....
Barbara Peters, PoisonedPen.com
Flash House is a glittering jewel of a tale, in a setting of Asia's Cold War. It's all about strong individuals capable of extreme loyalty, but with what the author herself calls 'a mutual ineptitude at love'.
Hilary Williamson, BookLoons.com
From the Author...
They say, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but it also can make the heart vengeful and raw -- or generous and strong. Absence is the emotional undertow in Flash House, a novel of adventure and passion centered around four characters who must rely on each other to come to terms with those missing from their lives – or pay the ultimate price. I was inspired to write this novel by the true stories of some remarkable men and women who disappeared while probing the political secrets of Central Asia at the start of the Cold War. What I did not expect was that this same locale – and many of these same secrets– would become front-page news following a terrorist attack on the U. S. in 2001.
I hope you find Flash House as illuminating to read as it was for me to write.
An American wife,
An Australian spy,
A turquoise-eyed girl from the back of beyond…
And a journey into a land of danger and desire
where nothing is what it seems.
“From the beginning, we were sisters more than mother and daughter. Joanna Shaw rescued me, in her way, and I tried to return the favor. I, who was then called Kamla, claimed her even as I hid under the shadow of a bullock cart…bullock cart…”
From acclaimed author Aimee Liu comes an extraordinary novel of love and loyalty, intrigue and survival set against the turbulent backdrop of post-World War II India and China. FLASH HOUSE introduces two singular heroines: a strong-minded American woman and a mesmerizing native girl whose journey together through a mysterious and exotic land will lead them into the heart of danger -- and forever transform both their lives.
On assignment in India with her journalist husband, Joanna Shaw runs a safe haven for girls trafficked into Delhi’s red-light district. It is here, in the dusty, sun-baked streets of the old city, that she discovers the turquoise-eyed Kamla. Joanna vows to rescue Kamla from the brothel – or flash house – where the eleven-year-old child has spent most of her life. But it is Kamla who claims Joanna at first sight, and when Joanna’s husband, Aidan, disappears while pursuing a politically explosive story in the mountains of Kashmir, it is Kamla who must come to Joanna’s emotional rescue.
Although the authorities insist that Aidan’s plane has crashed, Joanna refuses to believe the worst. Aidan is alive, and she resolves to find him at any cost. Accompanied by Kamla and Aidan’s best friend, an enigmatic Aussie named Lawrence Malcolm, she embarks on a dangerous trek across the highest passes of the Himalayas.
For Joanna, the journey to find Aidan is a quest for truth. For Lawrence it is a rescue mission that will lead to Red China – and an agonizing, life-or-death choice that teaches him the meaning of love and betrayal. And for the orphan Kamla, caught between two worlds, it is an odyssey into the tantalizing mystery of her birth.
Weaving the story of all three into the chaos and confusion of Asia’s Cold War, Aimee Liu gives us a spellbinding, multi-layered tale of intrigue and survival in which the ultimate safe haven is an elusive place called home.
Excerpt from FLASH HOUSE
Published by Warner Books, February 2003
Copyright, Aimee Liu 2003
From the beginning, we were sisters more than mother and daughter. Joanna Shaw rescued me in her way, and I tried to return the favor. I do not say this boastfully, but ironies are the way of the world, and now that I am an old woman I tell you with certainty that those who presume to lift another are most often in need of being raised themselves.
At the same time, those who appear the weaklings of this earth may possess strengths that overrule the mighty-- that, indeed, may surpass even their own deepest longings and desires. I have seen this to be the case among women and children of my kind for as long as I can remember. Mrs. Shaw, too, was of my kind, though on the now distant day when I first claimed her I did not know this to be true.
On the contrary, as I watched her making her way down G. B. Road in her stiff yellow dress and broad-brimmed hat with her handsome young Hindu escort I thought this must be some pampered firenghi who possesses no notion of pain. She looked younger than her thirty-four years, with a fire in her eyes that at once invited and warned me away. I was merely one of countless children of the red-light district. I owned nothing, not even my skin, but I knew why this foreign lady had come. The whole street knew. Tongas turned left instead of right at the sight of her. Khas-khas tati dropped over open windows. Smugglers bundled up their wares and trotted out of view. Women drew scarves across their faces, and the street became suddenly lively with dancing bears, monkey wallahs, and the calls of melon and paan vendors. All for the benefit of the foreigner who would come to save us.
My keeper, Indrani, said that in the days of the British her kind were missionaries and bored commissioners' wives. In the past two years since Independence they had been attached to the new Departments of Health and Social Welfare, and usually they were Indian, but they remained the same. Women with hair like dust clouds and radish noses who had never enjoyed the touch of a man – or so Indrani said. Such women in India, it was well known, were so weak that for centuries they had required the almighty power of the Raj to stand guard over their virtue. Now this responsibility had fallen to India's own officials and police. We in the street could not know why these men should protect the dust cloud ladies when they freely preyed on us, but neither did we question such things.
Mrs. Shaw was not ugly as the others I had seen. True, her body held hard juts and corners, and her lips were bare slivers against her teeth, but her eyes were large and filled with gold light, her skin and thick hair all the colors of honey. Her neck was long and slender and her ears shaped like perfect mangoes…
You see, even as early as that first day, I was viewing her in a different fashion. We were strangers, yet any stranger who is drawing such examination becomes something else, doesn't she? A stranger is strange, unknown, unexamined. When we study another we become familiar, and therefore cannot strictly be called strangers. I have often thought that of the thousands who pass in the streets each day, many hundreds may have passed before. Yet even if they pass two, five, twenty times, still they remain strangers except for those few who catch our eye, whose features we note and whose place in the street and day we remember -- these are strangers no more but possessions of the mind. So in this way I, who was then called Kamla, claimed Mrs. Shaw even as I hid from her under the shadow of a bullock cart.