The narrator is a girl of fourteen when the narrative begins, and she is in her late twenties when the novel ends. She is the cloistered younger child of an upper-middle-class family in Burma, where her father is a revolutionary hero. Though cloistered, and pampered in the material sense as a result of her family’s wealth, the narrator is uncared for emotionally. To her recently deceased maternal grandmother, she was a “mother killer,” blamed for her mother’s death in childbirth. Her aunts seem to dote on her, yet their doting seems to derive from their own sense of function rather than from the fact that the narrator is a motherless child in need of love. With her father mostly absent, the narrator’s only emotional support comes from her brother, who tells her what she never tires of hearing: “You are my sister; I’ll look after you.” Innocent even in the turmoil of the last years in Burma, the narrator is compelled to become self-reliant and resourceful. When her brother becomes ill, she becomes his nurse, parent, and anchor to reality.
Shan, the narrator’s half-brother, is ten years older than the narrator. He is the charismatic older brother of her youth who tells her stories, shows her secret places, keeps a coterie of unsavory friends, and seems to charm everyone except his father. Best of all, he is the narrator’s protector. Daring and dashing in Burma, Shan is out of his element in New York City. Here he does not have the means...
(The entire section is 530 words.)