A graceful and indelible debut about love, grief, and family welcomes you into its pages and invites you to linger, staying with you long after you've closed its covers.
How do you grieve, if your family doesn't talk about feelings?
This is the question the unnamed protagonist of Ghost Forest considers after her father dies. One of the many Hong Kong "astronaut" fathers, he stayed in Hong Kong to work, while the rest of the family immigrated to Vancouver before the 1997 Handover, when the British returned sovereignty over Hong Kong to China.
As she revisits memories of her father throughout the years, she struggles with unresolved questions and misunderstandings. Turning to her mother and grandmother for answers, she discovers her own life refracted brightly in theirs.
Buoyant, heartbreaking, and unexpectedly funny, Ghost Forest is a slim novel that envelops the reader in joy and sorrow. Fung writes with a poetic and haunting voice, layering detail and abstraction, weaving memory and oral history to paint a moving portrait of a Chinese-Canadian astronaut family.
About the author
PIK-SHUEN FUNG was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is a Kundiman Fiction Fellow, a Kundiman Mentorship Lab Fellow, and a Margins Fellow at the Asian American Writers' Workshop. She has been awarded residencies at the Millay Colony and Storyknife, and her writing has appeared in The Margins and Ricepaper Magazine. She holds an MFA in fine art from the School of Visual Arts and a BA in visual art from Brown University. Her artwork has been exhibited at the Newark Museum, the Katonah Museum, the Secret Theatre, and Beverly's.
Excerpt: Ghost Forest: A Novel (by (author) Pik-Shuen Fung)
Twenty-one days after my dad died, a bird perched on the railing of my balcony. It was brown. It stayed there for a long time.
Hi Dad, I said. Thanks for checking up on me.
I lay down on the couch and read some emails on my phone. When I looked up again, the bird was gone.
In my family, the best thing a child could be was gwaai. It meant you were good. It meant you did as you were told.
When I was four, or maybe six, I found out I was supposed to have a baby brother. But my mom said the baby flew to the sky, and that was why my dad was sad those days.
But why is he sad? I asked.
Because he’s a traditional Chinese father and he wants to have a son. Try to cheer him up.
Okay, I said.
I decided I would be so gwaai, I would be more perfect than a son.
I was three and a half when we immigrated to Canada. Like many other families, we left Hong Kong before the 1997 Handover. They say almost a sixth of the city left during this time.
My dad had seen news stories of Hong Kongers who couldn’t find jobs in their new countries, stories of managers who became dishwashers because they couldn’t speak the new language. Like many other fathers, my dad decided he didn’t want to leave his job in manufacturing behind.
To help my mom, my grandma and grandpa agreed to move with us to Canada. That spring, my dad took two weeks off from work, and the five of us headed to Kai Tak airport. All my aunts and uncles came to the departure gates to see us off.
In Canada there were more Hong Kong immigrants than in any other country, and in Vancouver, I had many classmates whose fathers stayed in Hong Kong for work too. I didn’t think of my family as different. I thought, this is what Hong Kong fathers do.
Astronaut family. It’s a term invented by the Hong Kong mass media. A family with an astronaut father—flying here, flying there.
As we walked out of the arrivals at the Vancouver airport, our family friends waved their arms.
Isn’t the air so fresh in Canada? they said.
For two weeks, we stayed at their house in the Richmond neighborhood, and they drove us everywhere. We ate dim sum in Aberdeen Centre, a new mall known as Little Hong Kong, and posed for pictures in Stanley Park, feeding breadcrumbs to the geese. But mostly, we were jet-lagged, riding in the back of their beige minivan, asleep with open mouths.
Two weeks later, after we moved into our new house, they drove us back to the Vancouver airport, where my mom looked at me and said, Say bye-bye to your dad now, he’s flying back to Hong Kong.
Through the windows of our new house, I saw plump pointy trees and blurry swishing trees. Everywhere outside was green.
At night, my mom slept in her bedroom, my grandpa in his. I shared a room with my grandma since we were always together. Three generations under one roof.
Dik lik dak lak diklikdaklak diklikdaklak
In our new house in Vancouver, everywhere outside was rain.
“Ours is a beautiful world . . . as long as we don’t mind a little dying. Despite all the tragedies that get dropped into their lives, gorgeous gorgeous girls, like Fung’s unnamed protagonist, don’t shy away from unpacking trauma by asking questions and revisiting family history. Fung tells us that feeling like a crumpled-up piece of paper is normal after losing a parent. But then again, happiness is a learnable skill.”—BuzzFeed
“A delicate, beautifully wrought story that elevates the fragmentary form and captures the universal experience of loss.” —Vancouver Sun
“Connected by a kind of dream logic . . . Ghost Forest is at times melancholy, but never regretful; deeply felt, but unencumbered. There is joy and tenderness in what’s missed, and Fung’s elegant storytelling accomplishes a lot with deceptively little.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Ghost Forest is an exceptional debut—risky, precise, witty and beautiful. How can a painting be distilled into ‘a single line,’ or love take root without a home to ground it? Fung creates an almost transparent yet weighted world made of relations. This is a moving, alive and unforgettable book.”—Madeleine Thien, author of the Giller Prize-winning Do Not Say We Have Nothing
“Like a Chinese ink painting, every line in Pik-Shuen Fung’s Ghost Forest is full of movement and spirit, revealing the resilient threads of matrilineal history and the inheritance of stories and silences. With humor, compassion, and clear-eyed prose, Fung reminds us that grief, memory, and history are never linear but always alive. Fung writes about the questions we forget to ask, the stories that are hidden from us, and the complex acts of care at the core of family. She reminds us that what is unspoken is never lost. Ghost Forest is an intimate act of recording and reckoning. It trusts us to listen. It shows us all the languages for love.”—K-Ming Chang, author of Bestiary
“‘With a single line, you can paint the ocean,’ says an art teacher in Ghost Forest, as apt a description as any for Pik-Shuen Fung’s spare, gorgeous, devastating debut novel. Here, silences speak. Brilliant and pitiless at first, Ghost Forest mutates in the reader’s hand, until it shimmers with grace and unexpected humor. A mercurial meditation on love and family."—Padma Viswanathan, bestselling author of The Ever After of Ashwin Rao
“Made by an artist who angles her mirror to make room for the faces of others, Pik-Shuen Fung’s Ghost Forest resembles a xieyi painting, a place where white space and absence are as important as color and life. At once an elegy to all that’s been lost between countries, languages, generations, and a quietly urgent call to love what we have. Inventive, funny, and devastating.”—Jennifer Tseng, award-winning author of Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
“In Ghost Forest, Pik-Shuen Fung gives us a family so aching with tenderness, so incandescent with grief and love, that reading about them felt like reading about my own deepest and most secret longings and regrets. This is a book to break your heart and then fill it to bursting again. What an exquisite, glorious debut.”—Catherine Chung, author of The Tenth Muse