Lillie and her daughters Hana and Kei have spent their entire lives trying to rise above disaster. Their story begins in the early 1970s, when Hana travels to New York, to find Kei unconscious in a bathtub, the marks on her body indicating a severe assault. Here the reader becomes aware that the novel is written in the style of magical realism. Hana allows the hospital staff to think the comatose Kei is really Hana. For days, Hana wonders whether her twin will recover and how their relationship will evolve, as it has always been incredibly close and distant at the same time.
The real Hana remains near her sister and tells her stories of their past in the 1950s and 1960s, including the time when Kei was almost drowned in a terrible tsunami. Hints of another traumatic event are constantly mentioned but never specified. The twins believe their mother’s constantly strange behavior made them depend on each other, while at the same time they try to be independent and unique. The novel transitions to Lillie’s account of WWII with its anti-Japanese treatment in the internment camps, exile to Japan, and the unbelievably horrific descriptions of the aftermath of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Despite the agonizing experiences these three women endure, this is a novel about true love, with its cyclical severing and reconnection of familial and historical bonds. The twins’ coming of age meant escaping into fantasy and mysticism to survive, rejecting it just when it seemed potentially destructive. Shadow Child is an unforgettable, often wandering, story of forgiveness and renewal, a journey paralleling Japanese and American history over thirty years.