“It’s not hungry spirits you should pray for, it’s the hungry living.”
This novel is about Chinese Culture as it evolves alongside the American immigrant’s experience. Is it a slow death of tradition and family, or a birth of something lasting and new? The story begins with Ling, a young fatherless boy ready to prove himself working in the opium and sex trade. Chosen to make his way to America, Ling eventually works in a laundries which are more brothels. He moves on to work as a valet and then for the Central Pacific Railway. The story between Ling and “Little Sister” is my favorite part of the book. The feelings she has about her own people,why she sleeps with ‘ghosts’, how her father chose to dispose of her in the search for Gold shows a darker side of the immigrant experience for Chinese women. The next section of the novel is about a America’s first Chinese movie star. How much does she fictionalize herself, what sort of roles were forced on her due to her ethnicity. What does she gain and lose in seducing viewers, as all movie stars must. She struggles between being too Chinese and too American as well. Her life isn’t free of tragedy either, and fame is there one day and fading the next. Her being Chinese helps and hinders in her roles, that change with the times. The chapter Jade deals with a tragic incident in a bar during the 80’s, such a sick moment written beautifully- particularly why the chapter is called Jade, I caught my breath. In Pearl a writer with Chinese heritage married to a Caucasian woman goes to China to adopt a child. Is there prejudice in this novel? Certainly, how could there not be if the author is to tell a story about the Chinese American experience? There is also humor, intelligence and love. It is engaging and honest, painfully so. The treatment of women ‘those soiled doves’ in the first section isn’t a cultural thing alone, let’s face it. Rend my heart this novel did, but silently. I found myself thinking about America and our boiling pot of cultures, how far we’ve come, how much further we still have left to go. I loved this book. I wish I could share all the passages I underlined, because the sentences are loaded with meaning. Must read.
Publication Date: September 16 2016 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt