Red Oblivion


Family secrets surface when two sisters travel to Hong Kong to care for their ill father.

When Jill Lau receives an early morning phone call that her elderly father has fallen gravely ill, she and her sister, Celeste, catch the first flight from Toronto to Hong Kong. The man they find languishing in the hospital is a barely recognizable shadow of his old, indomitable self.

According to his housekeeper, a couple of mysterious photographs arrived anonymously in the mail in the days before his collapse. These pictures are only the first link in a chain of events that begin to reveal the truth about their father’s past and how he managed to escape from Guangzhou, China, during the Cultural Revolution to make a new life for himself in Hong Kong. Someone from the old days has returned to haunt him — exposing the terrible things he did to survive and flee one of the most violent periods of Chinese history, reinvent himself, and make the family fortune. Can Jill piece together the story of her family’s past without sacrificing her father's love and reputation?


A heartbreaking story in which the past haunts the present and bleeds into the future...She deftly articulates the many ways human beings can justify wrongdoing if it leads to a good outcome, describing the inconceivable with nuance while conveying both shock and banality. Shimotakahara displays virtuosity in this subtle deconstruction of one family's tainted origins.

Kirkus Reviews

The author’s storytelling skills are impressive, painting a vivid image of past and present against a backdrop of complex family dynamics...Fans of literary historical fiction will enjoy this compelling story.

Library Journal

A contemplation of family and the past in a rapidly changing, internationally important city with its own complicated history.


A story about life in contemporary Hong Kong as well as the region’s complicated history with mainland China, Red Oblivion feels particularly relevant to read in this current moment.


Celeste and Jill Lau only begin to learn the truth about their father when they rush from Toronto to his hospital bedside in Hong Kong. Stubbornly silent about his early years in China, their Ba has been receiving threats that allude to a crime in his past, but still refuses to explain. Red Oblivion is one of the most masterful narratives I’ve ever read about a horrific chapter in China’s history, told through an intricate, mesmerizing tale of family and identity. Leslie Shimotakahara’s writing is both beautiful and bruising.

Janie Chang, author of Dragon Springs Road

Red Oblivion is a beautifully written, gripping mystery which captures the struggles between generations, times, and places. Leslie Shimotakahara skillfully illustrates the internal conflicts of daughters with modern Canadian sensibilities challenged by age-old Chinese familial expectations. Detailed renderings of today's Hong Kong provide a fascinating backdrop for this engrossing tale of the continuing legacy of the Cultural Revolution. A literary page-turner. Shimotakahara's best work to date.

Julia Lin, author of Shadows of the Crimson Sun

Haunting and true to life, Red Oblivion will captivate readers. Shimotakahara skillfully weaves history and imagination to tell a story about a daughter’s quest to unravel her father’s complicated past so that others can understand its far-reaching influence on their present lives. A strong narrative voice draws us into a world of secrets, sacrifices, and betrayals, transporting readers from Canada to Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China — only to find that the complex truths that bind friendships and families are often universal.

Ann Y.K. Choi, author of Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety

[A] moving—and deeply honest—portrait of a family that desperately needs to let go of its baggage, so that they can move into a better future.

A Bookish Type

I started reading Leslie Shimotakahara’s Red Oblivion in an airline waiting room with a storm brewing outside and found myself welcoming a flight delay because I might be able to keep reading for an extra couple of hours. In other words, it’s a very compelling book!

Maria Meindl, 49th Shelf

Red Oblivion is a stirring tribute to Hong Kong and the role it served as a haven for refugees or anyone wishing to make a new start. Shimotakahara's descriptions of the territory are vivid and dreamy in the way that make us all long for a simpler time.

Cha Journal

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