Paper Wife

Written by Laila Ibrahim
Review by Viviane Crystal

Think about having to leave your country with a different identity. Your success or failure on entering a new nation depends on a paper book full of a biography and details about your former home, right down to whether an oven was built into a wall or as a separate unit. This is the future of Mei Ling in 1923 Canton, China. Her older sister was meant to be the paper wife, but sudden illness mandated her replacement. On the ship to America, Mei Ling becomes familiar with her new husband and his son, Bo, as well as a young girl named Siew. Mei Ling or Wong Lew She, as she is called in America, constantly fears failure, only calmed by her deep faith in Quan Yin, the Chinese goddess, and her growing trust in her husband, Kai Li. Husband and wife have multiple secrets from each other that are gradually revealed, but not until many troubles threaten their growing closeness. Kai Li will sacrifice himself many times for this wife he has come to love. Other Chinese men and women try to cheat the couple out of self-interest, but many come to their aid just at the point when despair is about to overwhelm them.

Paper Wife is a lovely novel that shows a unique perspective of life for Chinese immigrants. One scene is so horrific that it takes some time for the reader to adjust. However, that scene is immediately followed by such sacrifice and forgiveness; some might think it’s breathtaking, while others might think it’s outrageous. Laila Ibrahim restores one’s faith that most people live good and generous lives. Highly recommended historical fiction!