A little girl - Han - is sold, aged four, as a bondmaid or slave into the House of Wu, where she grows up and falls in love with the young heir. But the idyll of childhood attachment turns into a nightmare as Han, beautiful, proud and uncompromisingly loyal, struggles against the forces of tradition and tyranny in a large household where patriarchs and matriarchs wield inexorable power, lustful male relatives watch young bondmaids to claim their rightful share of pleasure, visiting monks devise ingenious schemes to combine holy public duty with unbridled private indulgence, and gods and goddesses smile to see the human drama unfold.
Having frightened off Singaporean publishers with its frank treatment of child slavery there during the 1950s, the first of popular novelist Lim's books to be published in the U.S. recounts the dramatic love story of privileged Master Wu and strong-willed peasant girl Han. Sold at the age of four as a bonded servant to the powerful House of Wu, Han flouts social mores by becoming a playmate of the family's heir-apparent. In a household rife with dirty laundry and sexual abuse, the children are inevitably forced apart as they grow older, but the defiant Han refuses to let their love die. Lim creates a rich picture of Singaporean life behind the scenes: gods, goddesses and ancestors play a significant role in the couple's fate; plots develop between servants, masters and religious figures; crazy villagers and lost family members make unpredictable appearances; and Han finally faces the biggest threat yet to her love for Master Wu--his more suitable betrothed, Li-Li of the House of Chang. Despite simple characterizations and an occasionally stiff translation, readers will probably be less shocked by the subject matter and more intrigued by the tale itself--not to mention its exotic trappings.