I thought I had this book pretty much pegged as a period erotic romance set in 1900 Shanghai. There's a lot of talk about channeling sensual pleasure into a spiritual quest which I took as tongue-in-cheek right up until the ecstatic vision in which an angel literally tells the hero and heroine they are beings of love and the heroine realizes:
"All the tiny pieces of herself--her body, her soul, her heart and mind--all those things were made up of love. That was the core of who she was; that was at the center of everything. She was a creature of love--created by love to embody love, and to express love in all its myriad forms. She had merely forgotten.It would sound hokey if I didn't believe it (although I'm less sure about the angel part). So there I was, at three-quarters of the way through, completely rethinking what the book was about. And then there are the Lao Tzu quotes which begin each chapter--I got a surprising amount from reflecting on those along the way.
"As had everyone else. Because they too--Zou Tun, her father, every soul on the planet--came from the same source. They all had the same center of love. They all had merely forgotten."
Lee gets kudos in my estimation for not just hinting around, but daring to explode reality-as-we-know-it in her narrative. It's a very powerful moment. One of the most interesting things to me, however, is how the characters try to integrate their vision back into everyday life, which turns out to be really hard. One of Lee's profound insights, I think, is that lying damages the connection to whatever the divine is.