This is a story of an underrepresented Chinese identity, a transnational identity, one that is neither rootless nor completely uprooted. Told in space and monologue, traveling through present and past, it recounts memories and performs traditions with a weight and tenderness that only family can inspire.
Perhaps what is most noticeable upon opening Fung’s elegiac debut is all the white space. Paragraphs, phrases, words, even detached letters float across the pages, undoubtedly an ethereal reflection of lost chances, missing time, stolen opportunities, and spaces impossible to fill ... While it was always there, the space to acknowledge, exchange, and grow never seemed possible until looming loss ironically allows for open I-love-you’s. In between, the narrator fills the empty spaces with what the living are willing to share. Seemingly spare yet undeniably dense with so much unsaid, Fung’s polyphonic first novel is a magnificent literary triumph.
Fung’s vignette is the literary vignette, that lean, brief verbal descriptor of a place or object ... a portrait of emptiness. The first, original emptiness is the inherent nature of the astronaut father relationship, which implies a father largely absent from the narrator’s childhood. The second emptiness is a direct result of the first one, the absence of communication which results from both the narrator’s physical distance from him and the rift between their two cultures. It is the sort of atmosphere in which even a declaration of love must be rigorously scripted, in which communication is always at the peril of breaking down, emptiness pressing in at the edges to fill the space ... The tension between emptiness and what fills it is what gives Ghost Forest its narrative propulsion ... The result is a gnarled thing, an empty thing, but also successfully empty. For what the empty space holds is love felt from far away, and oral history wrenched after death, and the generous and joyful spirit of both the art and its author.
Spurred by her father’s illness, a Chinese Canadian woman explores her family’s past ... In very short, matter-of-fact fragments, the narrator accumulates memories of growing up, adjusting to life in Canada, and handling an often difficult relationship with a father she sees only twice a year ... Debut author Fung seems to be describing her own narrative technique as much as this historical style, and its spareness does occasionally lend the narrative a fittingly agile sense of itinerancy. Largely, though, the details come across as somewhat mundane: They never really cohere into something bigger than their sum, and the characters remain unconvincing collections of attributes. As a result, the ending in particular feels merely sentimental rather than moving. Occasionally touching but ultimately insubstantial.