Nearing forty, Emerson Chang is a dutiful son to his mother, a devoted bachelor who has waited all his life for love to be right. His mother owns a motel, realizing her ambitions for success as an immigrant in the United States and providing security for her two sons after their fatherís death. Only one son remains at her side, the younger, Little P absent for ten years, making his life in Taipei.
Demanding Emerson marry ďone of his kind,Ē his mother has no intention of letting up on her expectations. After an argument one night, Emerson returns to the motel to make peace with his mother but finds her in a coma. She dies, riddled with cancer no one suspected. Emerson is devastated, but a worse fate arrives when the solicitor announces that the motel has been left exclusively to Little P, Emerson only inheriting a small piece of property in Taipei.
And thereís more: Emerson is to deliver his motherís ashes to the land of her birth, there to put her to rest. Still shocked by the fact that he has been put aside for her favorite son, Emerson travels to Taipei, the motel ownership papers in hand. After ten years, he has no idea what to expect. The reunion is decidedly bizarre - Little P assaults his brother with a knife until he realizes it is Emerson.
Little Pís face is battered, raggedly stitched from a recent incident, his demeanor suspicious. Later, instead of handing over the papers, Emerson temporizes, unwilling to be done with his younger brother so easily. Speaking only English, Emerson is at a disadvantage, wary of their shady cousins and the shabby karaoke bar where Little P works. Unable to pin Little P down, Emerson learns only half-truths and innuendoes, a verbal sparring that continues as Little P asks for his help yet refuses to confide the nature of his troubles.
Lin's Taipei is a maze of chattering crowds and unpredictable events, a volatile political landscape and the pervasive corruption of the criminal underground, of which Little P seems to be such a vital part. Clutching his mother's ashes, Emerson bravely follows Little P from one violence-fraught situation to another, appealing to his brother's dormant emotions while Little P evades and dissembles.
Unwittingly accruing a gambling debt, Emerson is threatened by his cousin, Poison, who expects a certain amount of money or he will take revenge either on Little P or one of the two women Emerson has met since his arrival, delicate Grace or loud-mouthed, big-hearted Angel. Buffeted between his innocence and a gradual awareness of the criminal underground that is Little Pís home turf, Emerson quakes as Poisonís threats grow more menacing and Little P hints of serious trouble and his inability to escape a heinous deed.
Emerson clings to his motherís ashes and Little Pís occasional honesty, Linís flailing protagonist beautifully portrayed, a bumbling virgin with a loyal heart who longs for resolution with his brother beyond a financial transaction. As his illusions unravel, friends turn to enemies and the political scene seethes with unpredictability. Modern-day Taiwan, at least where Little P resides, teems with menace and random violence.
In a harrowing journey from the known to the unknown, Emerson is challenged by circumstances. The ugly truth is revealed to Emerson in a chilling confrontation, a betrayal of blood and the naked greed of those he has trusted. Refusing to be cowed, Emerson survives the bleak realities, his perspective irrevocably altered: ďLiving; that was the only kind of immortality there was.Ē