Paper Butterfly is the second novel in the Mei Wang series written by Diane Wei Liang. Liang was born in Beijing of parents who were consigned to a remote labor camp during part of her childhood. In 1989, she was involved in the protest in Tiananmen Square. Those two experiences provided her with insider knowledge put to good use in Paper Butterfly.
The story begins with Lin, sentenced to eight years in a work camp in Gansu Province at the age of twenty due to betrayal by a childhood friend. His time at the camp cost him his youth, his sweetheart, and almost cost him his life. He served his time and was released with very little: the clothes on his back, a brand new Mao jacket, and a small amount of money. The reader follows his trail as he slowly makes his way back, physically and emotionally, to civilization.
When Mei Wang suddenly resigned from the Ministry for Public Security, she decided to open a detective agency. Although private detectives were banned in China, her title “information consultant” brought her great success with a nice apartment and new car. At thirty-one, she was still not married, a situation she heard much about due to the oft- vocal disappointment of her mother and highly successful, and very married, sister, a TV talk show host.
The president of a record company hired Mei to find a rising pop star who has gone missing. Kaili had disappeared for several days when Mei agreed to a discreet search into the troubled singer’s life. Although the police think her disappearance was related to robbery, Mei began to search into Kaili’s past. As she searched Kaili’s apartment, she found a stack of love letters tucked away years ago signed only by “L” and a homemade paper butterfly. She had no idea they might hold the key to the case.
After Kaili was found dead, Mei was dismissed from the case. Unable to let go of Kaili’s life, Mei decided to continue on her own. She soon found herself receiving threats and her life at risk. As Mei traveled throughout the city, the reader was drawn into her world, a world of promise and of danger.
Paper Butterfly is written by Diane Wei Liang, a woman who has strong insider knowledge of Beijing, its history and politics. A woman who brings her past and present into the story by deftly weaving personal experience into the narrative providing a heartbreaking tale of love lost due to the political strife of the times. The author shows how once one’s course is set, it is almost impossible to return to the old way of life.
Liang writes with poignancy, drawing on the sights, sounds, and smell of a city teeming with life. She has created a modern day female detective struggling with a mix of the new ways and the old traditions of her family. This unique mixture together with Liang’s life experiences combine genuine mystery and mystique into one thoroughly enjoyable story.