Destinies Divided: A World War I Romance of the Chinese Diaspora
by Mee-mee Phipps
At the turn of the nineteenth century, Zhou Yu is a Chinese-born tile merchant seeking to expand his enterprise into new territory. Leaving a wife and child behind in China, he strikes out for New Zealand where he weds a Maori native named Horowhai. At the heart of this story live their three young children, the offspring of a Maori mother and a Chinese father. Eddie, the eldest brother, is thoughtful and quiet, seeking harmony in his family’s household above all else. Emily is bright and warm, and she understands much more about the world around her than normal girls of her age. Their younger brother, Alex, is even more reserved than Eddie. He has inherited a great deal of their mother’s look but less of their father’s, making him an outsider among his own people after the children return to China to pursue their education. Ultimately, Zhou Yu is forced to reconcile the two halves of his family, asking his first wife, Yung, to watch over his children while he continues to conduct business abroad. As Horowhai begins to lose her hold on reality, increasingly haunted by a traumatic event during her childhood, Yung’s position as mother to Horowhai’s children grows more and more demanding, which leads to an inevitable airing of violent emotion between Yung and her husband.
“Destinies Divided” is aptly named, since much of what this novel has to say is about the difficulties Zhou Yu’s children face as they grow into adulthood. They are the products of multiple worlds and continually ostracized by their peers after every turn because of it. Likewise, Zhou Yu’s destinies are divided between his two families, and, while his problems are admittedly the primary result of his indiscretions, the manner in which Zhou Yu goes about repairing his relationship with Yung is truly thought provoking. Set against a steadily shifting backdrop of prominent events throughout the world – political rebellion and upheaval in China, the advent of motorized technology, the birth of a bustling international trade route between Asia and North America, “Destinies Divided” is a masterfully devised work that explores the very nature of family, home, and fate.