Fanny leaves her family in New York and travels to Hong Kong, where she searches her past and the present for answers to the question of whether she can forge some relationship with the three children, now young adults, she left behind. She explores the once-beautiful, now-decrepit house called Water Music, situated on the South China Sea, which is haunted by violent spirits from its World War II occupation. She had lived there as the young wife of a British diplomat, until the oppressive demands of that life strained her mental health to the point of disaster. She struggles, alone, to know if her first three children can forgive her for leaving, if her second family will forgive her for keeping such a terrible secret, and if she can ever forgive herself for it all. Was she mad, as the doctors believed, or just selfish, as her husband and mother claimed? Among its other riches, the novel explores an exotic Buddhist exorcism of the fabulous, but ill-fated Water Music and the descriptions of the differences Fanny finds in Hong Kong of the 1960s and Hong Kong of the 1990s before the British turnover to China. It is also a careful exploration of women's roles: how far can a mother go to save her own life?