Lucy Bengstrom lives in Seattle with her 11-year-old daughter, Alida. When she is asked to write about August Vanagas, a reclusive international bestselling author, Lucy becomes intrigued by his story of an orphan adrift in Europe in the Second World War.
That's all kind of hooey. But two of the main characters are recognizable enough. One, Lucy, is a freelance (female) journalist researching a right-wing, immigrant prof that may have faked a (what else? He is still British, I guess). Holocaust-era memoir. He's right about the journalist personality: on the one hand or the other, unable to commit, the approach to research.The other is her gay neighbor, a paranoid, HIV-infected conspiracy nut.
Raban gamely sketches the world of the journalist's 12-year-old daughter (doubtless inspired by his daughter) but, honestly, any 12-year-old this into math will at least--at least--know HTML.
Worst, excruciating, is the landlord--a vulgar, illegal Chinese immigrant who inexplicably decides that the much older Lucy will be his wife. Jonathan, there are loads of Chinese people in Seattle; get to know a few. They will be happy to fill you in on Chinese stereotypes, their own stereotypes.
Still, it is worth reading.
But as I neared the end of the book I started to get concerned about how the author was going to end the story. I read a lot of science fiction and I've gotten good at predicting when a novel is the first part of a new series. Generally the plot has too many loose ends. Will Lucy finish (or even start) the article? Will Tad go crazy? Will Finn get arrested? Will Mr. Lee tear down the apartment building? And on and on.
One other reviewer thought the book was setting up for a sequel. My problem with a sequel was that this didn't seem like a story that needed a sequel to finish. And certainly not every loose end needs to be tied up. But the author chose an ending so jarring and so from-out-of-nowhere that he might just as well as have had Martians attack or the sun go nova.
I felt cheated. And there won't be a sequel. The ending made all the questions and loose ends irrelevant.