This Place Called Absence by Lydia Kwa (Turnstone) is another debut novel. It traces the lives of two ah ku (prostitutes) living in turn-of-the-century Singapore and intertwines their stories with that of Wu Lan, a Vancouver psychologist struggling to come to terms with her father's suicide, and Wu Lan's mother, who still lives in Singapore. Kwa builds an appealing landscape in busy Singaporean streets and brothels and in the libraries and cafes of Vancouver, and peoples it with characters of potential depth and interest. Unfortunately the story is spread too thinly among the various characters and the reader winds up knowing none of them well. The women's stories are weighed down by irrelevant details and the connections between them become evident too slowly. The writing rises into beauty in the last fifty pages, but not enough to dispel disappointment with the flaws of a weakly braided plot.