Mei Wang is a product of the new China. She works for herself running an “information consultancy” (private detective agencies are illegal, after all).
Mei is hired by a record company executive to find one of their new up-and-coming singing stars. Kaili hasn’t been seen since her last live concert. She just disappeared from her dressing room. The company want her disappearance kept quiet.
The author, Diane Wei Liang was born in China where she spent her early childhood years with her parents in a labour camp in a remote region of China. She was also involved in the student democracy movement in the 1980s and was one of those in Tiananmen Square in that fateful month of June, 1989. This personal experience shines through in the book in the creation of characters and account of life in China.
What I found particularly vivid was the importance of food in China. Nearly every meal is described; many of them mouth-wateringly delicious. One or two sounded awful (boiled tripe in chilli broth, anyone?).
There are three significant events alluded to in THE PAPER BUTTERFLY, the impact of which is quite startling. The Great Leap forward in the late 1950s drastically changed the lives of nearly everyone in China. The 1960s saw the Cultural Revolution, with destruction of historical sites, the outlawing of many traditional cultural practices and the displacement and deaths of millions. It was an ugly time and those events had long-reaching effects. And finally Tiananmen Square which forced the Chinese to realise that there were going to be limits to the new-found freedoms that had been granted to them.
The main theme of THE PAPER BUTTERFLY is how these events impacted on individuals. The mystery is merely a means to an end. I learned a lot about China, its history and people reading this book. It also serves as a powerful reminder not to judge the people of a country by the actions of its leaders.