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My Sweet Curiosity
My Sweet Curiosity

By Amanda Hale
Thistledown Press, 324 pages. $19.95

"There is something missing in all of us," claims Dai Ling, one of the heroines in Hornby Island writer Amanda Hale's novel, My Sweet Curiosity. And the reason we are here is "to find the missing pieces." Hale has established herself as one of Canada's leading writers of philosophical fiction with this follow-up to The Reddening Path. Her story of how people strive for wholeness investigates the very nature of being.

In My Sweet Curiosity, the missing pieces are found as characters scramble their way through personal strife. Talya, a third-year medical student in Toronto, falls in love with Dai Ling, a young virtuoso cellist whose father is haunted by painful memories of China's Cultural Revolution. Both women are faced with a formidable challenge—Talya to overcome an existential crisis and Dai Ling to keep her family intact over her romance with a member of her own sex. Surrounding them is a jigsaw puzzle of characters immersed in their own reconstruction. Talya's father attempts to rebuild his life after losing his wife to cancer; Dai Ling's parents battle to reconcile their daughter's lesbianism with their conservative values and traditions. Behind the scenes is a purposeful universe nudging them all toward harmony.

According to Hale's omniscient narrator, our lives are connected by "a web of impossible intricacy," one that reaches beyond time. Woven into Talya and Dai Ling´s story is a partly fictional account of Andreas Vesalius, the Flemish physician whose study of anatomy in the mid-1500s helped fuel Renaissance thinking. In Hale's version Vesalius's mapping of the body leads to an obsession with locating the human soul, a goal that alienates his family and nearly destroys him. Though separated by centuries, Vesalius's and Talya's lives meet in a dreamlike set of events that results in both their salvations.

Hale writes with one eye on the everyday and the other on the eternal. Her language glides from mundane to sublime as she examines the natures of reality and dream, truth and fiction, and science and the arts, to discover that their distinctions are often blurred. One thing clear is that if Hale's surreal but happy ending is anything to go by, our quest for completeness is not in vain. All we have to do is find the missing pieces.