To All Appearances a Lady is Marilyn Bowering’s haunting, evocative debut novel and one of her most loved and memorable works.
As Robert Lam sets off on his voyage up the coast of Vancouver Island, the last passenger he expects is a ghost. But when the spirit of Lam Fam—the woman who raised him—suddenly and mysteriously appears, the trip they embark on initiates a quest for the truth about a past both have been avoiding for too many years.
Together Robert and Lam Fam relive a harrowing story that begins in nineteenth-century China and takes them on a journey through the South China Sea, across the Pacific to the shores of British Columbia and the dangerous, secretive labyrinth of the B.C. opium trade. There follows a rich and compelling tale of love and deception, greed and drugs—all set against a background of fascinating historical detail and the clash of transplanted cultures.
In this strangely beautiful, haunting first novel, Canadian poet Bowering sets her hero, half-Chinese boat pilot Robert Lam, adrift on a voyage around Vancouver Island with the ghost or spirit of Lam Fan, his just-deceased 100-year-old stepmother. Their taunting, fiercely loving relationship propels Robert on a reluctant journey of self-discovery. He learns the full story of his mother, idealistic reformer India Thackery, an emigre from Hong Kong who aided lepers on a Canadian island colony and suffered a terrible death. He realizes that India's husband, Robert Louis Haack, a robber and paid informer on Chinese illegal immigrants, was not his real father. In unmasking the surprise of his true paternity, Robert gradually comes to accept himself. The cadenced narative yields its secrets slowly as the action shifts between Canada, China and California, and from the 1890s to the 1950s. In Lam Fan, the ruefully wise matriarch, Bowering has created a magnificent character, at once mythical and human.