Red Thread of Fate by Lyn Liao Butler

Amid grief, betrayal and exposed secrets, a new widow learns to forge unexpected bonds.

Lyn Liao Butler (The Tiger Mom’s Tale) offers secrets, tragedy, hope and redemption in a novel centered on family and forgiveness. When Red Thread of Fate opens, Tam is on the phone with Tony, her husband. They are a bit short with each other; the marriage has been a little off, but they’re generally headed back on track and preparing to adopt a little boy from China, which both look forward to. Then there is cursing, a roaring sound–and just like that, Tam is a widow. The shocks come quickly, one after another: Tony was not in Manhattan, where he should have been, but in Flushing, Queens, and accompanied by a cousin Tam thought he’d been estranged from for years, killed by the same truck that struck Tony. Then Tam is surprised to be named guardian of the estranged cousin’s five-year-old daughter, even as her son-to-be still awaits adoption in China.

Tam, the California-born daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, and Tony, an immigrant from China, negotiated an uneasy peace with their families and their new lives in New York City, and with each other. Upon her own immigration, Tony’s cousin Mia lived with the couple for nearly two years, before unspecified events broke up the happy household. Now Tam is left to untangle the mysteries of Tony’s life, which seem to multiply the more she learns; Mia’s history is even more enigmatic, but Tam is committed to parenting her orphaned niece. She carries a guilty secret of her own, too.

By nature a shy and private woman, Tam is prompted by her new life–widowed, a single parent, grieving–to accept help, against her instincts. Slowly, she builds a family and a community: taking in her niece, moving toward adoption (which must be renegotiated now that she does not have a husband), deepening friendships and finding new ones, even beginning to mend relations with her mother. This process also involves navigating cultural nuances and divided loyalties. By the time Tony’s secrets come fully to light, Tam is a changed woman, with new strengths and allegiances, and better equipped to meet her many challenges.

Red Thread of Fate is a novel about what ties people to one another, and the nature of those bonds, the unintended consequences of choices and the possibility of a fresh start. With contemplative characters, surprising humor and a twisting plot, Butler’s thought-provoking story of nontraditional family models will appeal to readers interested in fate and identity.


This review originally ran in the December 6, 2021 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.


Rating: 6 wontons.

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