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On the Safest Ledge: A novel

Xu Sherry Wang, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In 1920, Han Bikong is born the eighth child of an affluent landowning family in the Shanghai countryside. His mother dies soon after giving birth to him, leaving him to live with her parents in the country, while his father, blaming his son for his wife's death, remarries soon afterwards. After the death of his father in 1938, Bikong finds himself unwillingly drawn into the Chinese-Japanese conflict while trying to protect his family and the woman he loves. But he soon learns that the people around him have more secrets than he could have ever imagined, leading him to deeply question his own loyalties, even towards his country. He learns about nationalism and survival, and what is worth living and dying for. Seventy years later, his Chinese-American immigrant granddaughter, Amber, returns from the United States to live in Shanghai after the suicide of her brother, Cameron—a secret from her grandparents. She finds a hidden map left behind in her brother's apartment, and navigates the city according to the red dots, trying to find out what happened to her brother. As Amber tries to uncover the reasons behind her brother's suicide, she soon learns that her secret is only one of many her family are keeping. She meets Ashin, the mysterious son of her landlord, who becomes her guide to the city and confidante, but he may be hiding an unknown connection with her brother's death. In the midst of her grief, her grandfather, Han Bikong, hands her a task her brother left unfinished: read and translate his autobiography detailing his account of the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. Through the autobiography, Amber learns about her own family history as well as her country's traumatic and violent past, and has to deal with the temptation to change history in her translation. What begins as a search for her brother becomes a search for the past and its roots in the future.

Subject Area

Asian American Studies|American literature

Recommended Citation

Wang, Xu Sherry, "On the Safest Ledge: A novel" (2012). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3521969.