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The Thorn of Lion City

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As Lucy Lum and her father hid from Japanese bombers during WWII, they began relating the family history that forms the basis of The Thorn of Lion City. The main player is Popo, Lum’s grandmother, a prideful matriarch who drives Lum’s father to drink, sells servants into brothels, or watches, cigarette in hand, as they are beaten until brain-damaged. Her own grandchildren fare no better — she sears the lips of naughty ones with burning wicks. Still, this brutal world is described with such grace that, like Lum, you may develop vicarious nostalgia for the “delicious roasting smell” of her grandfather’s opium pipe. B+