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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Water Ghosts--Who Knew?
Having just put this book down, I am still slack-jawed at the richness of Ms. Ryan's descriptions. Her characters can almost be felt with my own hands. I can most certainly smell them, hear their voices whispering in my ear...

I knew nothing of this time and place before I read this book and I now feel like I have a deep understanding of yet another story of...
Published on June 6, 2007 by PHoenix

versus
14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Do Your Research!!
I wanted this book to be an enjoyable story about Locke in 1928, but I found instead a poorly researched novel with a bad plot. There is no sense of place and no local color, just a turgid plot. Don't waste your money! If you want to read this book get it from your library.
I don't know where Ms Ryan got her information for this book although she acknowledged some of...
Published on July 20, 2009 by C. Fong


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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Water Ghosts--Who Knew?, June 6, 2007
By 
PHoenix (Salt Lake City, UT) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Locke 1928 (Paperback)
Having just put this book down, I am still slack-jawed at the richness of Ms. Ryan's descriptions. Her characters can almost be felt with my own hands. I can most certainly smell them, hear their voices whispering in my ear...

I knew nothing of this time and place before I read this book and I now feel like I have a deep understanding of yet another story of how our country was built on the backs of immigrants. (Reference to the brothel workers not intended but makes for an interesting pun I now see...)
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A watery look at a Chinese town in California, August 24, 2010
By 
S. Smith-Peter (Staten Island, NY) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Water Ghosts: A Novel (Hardcover)
This book has been quite controversial in the reviews, and I can see why. The author deals with race, class, gender and sexual orientation in this story of the manager of a gambling hall, the prostitute he frequents (and abuses), the minister's daughter she's in love with, the minister's wife and her suicidal thoughts and three mysterious Chinese women who come to town in a small boat. It's true that not all the characters are especially likable, but they all are well drawn and their interactions are believable and telling. This book would be especially good for a class on American fiction engaging in these kinds of issues.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Judging the book by the cover, May 4, 2007
This review is from: Locke 1928 (Paperback)
I loved the book so much that I visited the town of Locke. I really apprecaited all the thinking, interviewing, researching, and writing that went into this beautiful historical novel. A wonderful way to get in a little history of the Chinese farm workers during that period and the true story of how a small town came into being. A rich set of characters, eros, hot sticky days, hard work, ghosts, the preacher's daughter, it was all so wonderful. I'm not a good writer so this review doesn't do justice to this book. Congratulations to the author.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully written debut novel, December 16, 2013
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This review is from: Water Ghosts: A Novel (Hardcover)
A beautifully written debut novel, set in California, told with a nuanced perspective. No disappointments here, and readers will finish by wishing for more work from this promising writer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I was totally drawn in by this book & loved it, September 3, 2013
This review is from: Water Ghosts: A Novel (Hardcover)
This is a remarkable novel---poetic images, spiritual undertones and references, sensuous moments that sneak up on you, bits & snips of people in another time---all to the rhythm of the river they live by. The juxtaposition of gritty details of daily life with haunting images was wonderful. I loved all the different stories within the town (anyone ever read Dylan Thomas' "Under Milk Wood"?) and the way they intertwined or parted over the course of time. Although it took me a few sentences to get used to it, I also liked the way quotation marks were not used for words and thoughts. It set a different, more fluent format for the story. I had to laugh at the some the reviews complaining about this. Didn't anyone read James Joyce's "Ulysses"? Or listen to Prokofiev (revolutionary in its day)...? Or look at a painting that really moved them, but was considered outside the norm when first introduced? Setting new boundaries that move or enlighten us is one of the delights of art. I look forward to Shawna Yang Ryan's next efforts!
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14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Do Your Research!!, July 20, 2009
By 
C. Fong (Upland, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Water Ghosts: A Novel (Hardcover)
I wanted this book to be an enjoyable story about Locke in 1928, but I found instead a poorly researched novel with a bad plot. There is no sense of place and no local color, just a turgid plot. Don't waste your money! If you want to read this book get it from your library.
I don't know where Ms Ryan got her information for this book although she acknowledged some of Locke's longtime residents who "warmly welcomed" her to their town. I personally know most of those whose names she cited, and I do not believe that the author interviewed them for this book. She may have talked to them and gotten some tidbits of their stories, but this work of historical fiction is historically inaccurate. I spent my first 18 years in this town, and so I know its physical layout as well as anyone would know his or her hometown. Ms Ryan's descriptions of the locales do not jibe with the lay of the town. It is bounded by the Sacramento River on the west and the slough on the east and consists of just a few streets and several alleyways. How can she spend a month in this town doing research and not get it right?
I was also dismayed that the main character is a sleazy manager of a gambling parlor and the plot consists of his complicated relations with 2 prostitutes and the unexpected arrival of his wife. The morose prose is overblown, the plot has nothing to recommend it. The town of Locke was a happening place in the 1920s, but we sure don't see it in this book. It remains the only town in the U.S. founded and settled by the Chinese. There is no discussion of how the people made their livelihood, or indeed why it was necessary for them to settle there, aside from the fire that is mentioned in the last two paragraphs on page 2. Surely the author could have given some back story. Why did the she choose this town for her story if she respects its history so little? It would be infinitely better had she simply made up a location than to give readers a false impression of the Sacramento Delta and the Chinese who settled in this agricultural region.

Update:
How gratified Ms Ryan must feel to have such ardent defenders of her writing. Within 2 days of my posting this critical opinion of her book there were 3 comments criticizing my post. I acknowledge that I am perhaps too close to the subject to be entirely objective about this book. I wonder how many descendents of Locke's original settlers have picked up this book and read it, and how many of them enjoyed the story? It is obvious to me that Ms Ryan did not write the book for those of us who have sunny memories of their idyllic childhood growing up in Locke.
I think about our great-grandparents and grandparents who lived in 1928 Locke, and I cannot reconcile what is depicted in this novel with their actions and aspirations. Their greatest hope was that their children and future generations would continue to honor their cultural roots and yet succeed in their efforts in life while they had to face discrimination on all sides. The public schools were not integrated in the area until the late 1940s; a Chinese language school was established that children attended after getting home from public school. Most of the residents worked hard and maintained the Chinese ethos while pursuing the American Dream.
I picked up this book thinking that it would refresh some of the memories of the colorful stories I heard in childhood of opium dens, prostitutes, and gambling houses. Sadly, I would describe the book to be "arty", not "artful". I find the writing to be vague and the characters to possess no redeeming qualities. The plot and characters simply do not ring true. But again, I may be too close to the subject and so must decry the book's shattering of illusions still so closely held.
This book purports to be historical fiction. Its original title was Locke 1928. With such a title wouldn't you expect at the very least that the geographical descriptions be accurate? I could not recognize the town of Locke as it is described in the book. But Ms Ryan wrote this book for a much wider audience who would appreciate it for its "dreamlike haze" and "magical writing", and if that is what readers want, why, then go for it. It can be had for a paltry amount (like new!) at Amazon's used bookstore, but I still recommend that you get it from your local library.
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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Locke This One Up And Throw Away The Key, July 7, 2009
This review is from: Locke 1928 (Paperback)
I purchased this book hoping to get a good feel on life in 1920s California and early immigration. What I got was a 1920s love triangle with a lone man at the core that is a very unlikeable guy. You have Robert, a Chinese immigrant that has left his wife in China for the last ten years and takes up with one prostitute after another. Poppy, a former prostitute that pimps out younger women, is madly in love with Robert. However, Robert is enamored with yet another prostitute named Chloe. BUT Chloe is in love with another girl, the preacher's daughter. Meanwhile, Robert's wife shows up on a boat with two other strange women and she loves Robert! Utterly ridiculous story plot and absolutely none of the characters are appealing nor does any of them make you want to read further to find out what happens to them.

Do not be fooled by the attractive cover. There is nothing attractive about the plot or characters.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent debut novel, looking forward to follow-up, July 27, 2010
This review is from: Water Ghosts: A Novel (Paperback)
I think this is an excellent book. It does a fantastic job of touching on interpersonal relationships within a specific historical context and invoking emotional responses to spiritual/fantasy possibilities. I would recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone. It is not my type of writing, along the lines that Toni Morrison is not my type of writer. Which is to say, anything this good goes beyond type.

Shawna Yang Ryan evokes complex emotional responses with simple words, simple interactions; her characters intrigue, seem complete, and in what is left out they must be followed. And when they are followed, as they must be, what comes is what Borges stated was necessary for a story's ending: it is inevitable yet surprising.

This is a beautiful book, driven by characters, plot and setting.

One of the things Water Ghosts has going for it is I look forward to rereading it. I'm hoping that Shawna, like fellow Berkeley-ite Ken Kesey, will dramatically improve from her excellent first novel. As with Kesey, this will be no easy task.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lisa Nelson, April 20, 2009
This review is from: Water Ghosts: A Novel (Hardcover)
Shawna Yang Ryan captures the characters of Water Ghosts in delicate description that draws the reader in until it is impossible to escape the deep confines of the story. Her use of imagery and careful prose is beautiful and revealing of character and place. A wonderful story by a talented author.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Surreal, July 11, 2009
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This review is from: Water Ghosts: A Novel (Hardcover)
Really a very sophisticated novel.

It generally annoys me when authors do not use quotations marks. However, I soon realized the lack of quotations helps to blur the writing just enough to create the unique setting of the novel; the story takes place somewhere in between the real world and the surreal or supernatural world.

Water Ghosts is, at its core, a ghost story. And as the plot progresses, I literally held my breath to see how and why this immigrant community was being infiltrated by a ghostly one.

The characters are interesting, though it was not the characters that made the book compelling, but the way Ryan weaved together a historical story tinged with romance, the gritty underside of a working-class town, star-crossed lovers, and the lure of something out of the ordinary.

Beautifully written and nearly perfectly executed.

Though I believe Poppy was meant to be the heroine of the novel, if there is supposed to be one particular hero or heroine, I felt Ryan could have delved a little bit more into her own unique story.

Highly recommended! 4/5
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Water Ghosts: A Novel
Water Ghosts: A Novel by Shawna Yang Ryan (Hardcover - April 16, 2009)
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