Issues of identity take center stage in Mary Jean Chan’s new poetry collection Bright Fear. Chan’s poems deal with a variety of uncomfortable personal experiences: growing up queer in a Chinese household, dealing with racism and racial prejudice when moving to the United Kingdom, and grappling with learning—and then eventually writing in and making a career out of—the “colonial language”, as Chan puts it, of English.

The legacy of the businessmen who built Hong Kong are all over the city. Bankers work in Chater House—named after Paul Chater, the Armenian businessman behind much of the city’s land reclamation (among many other things). The Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel sits along Mody Road, named after Hormusjee Naorojee Mody, a Parsi immigrant who helped found the University of Hong Kong. And that’s not including figures like Robert Hotung, the half-British, half-Chinese magnate who found more power in his Chinese identity.

Lily, living in London, receives a mysterious letter naming her in an inheritance from a stranger in Hong Kong. To claim it, she must travel to Hong Kong. Her older sister, Maya, has received the same letter but chooses to ignore it. A successful lawyer, Maya feels no connection to her mother’s birthplace and doesn’t wish to feel beholden to anyone, especially a stranger. Maya resembles their late father, Julian, with blond hair and light eyes, while Lily resembles their late mother, Sook-Yin, with dark hair and dark eyes. Lily is convinced she embarrasses Maya because she is a constant reminder that they come from a complicated background. Just how complicated is something that Lily will soon discover when she flies to Hong Kong in late June 1997 without informing her sister.