.all the stories that filled my childhood, even the ones about my beloved Lemminkainen, were overshadowed by my growing obsession with the mystery surrounding Mother. And at the heart of her mystery was a red silk dress. At the end of World War II, five-year-old Carlotta 'Carrie" Saari, who was boarded out during the war, reunites with her family. She and her older sister Beth are soon bonded by their love of stories, Finnish mythology, the different characters that fill their lives, and their need to solve the mystery that surrounds their mother. They secretly discover a red Chinese dress (qipao) in their attic. Soon Beth's awakening sexuality creates an undercurrent of tension with their mother, suddenly exploding when Beth appears in the red dress. The sisters' world then shatters when their mother mysteriously disappears. Beth goes on to live a nomadic life, intermittently visiting Carrie, who becomes disturbed by Beth's blatant approach to sex. Their mother's red dress, which Beth had taken, appears from time to time throughout Carrie's life. While Carrie moves through the turbulence of the twentieth century, her quest to uncover the mystery of the red dress and her mother's disappearance takes her back to the Shanghai of the 1920's, on a journey to self-discovery and the healing power of love.