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Water Ghosts: A Novel Paperback – July 27, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
A dreamlike haze shimmers over Ryan's debut, the tale of a real-life immigrants' enclave in early 20th-century California. In the mining town of Locke outside Sacramento, Richard Fong's Lucky Fortune casino and Poppy See's brothel provide the only entertainment for Chinese workers sending their wages back to the families they can't bring into the country. For Chloe, a white prostitute who is Richard's favorite, it's also a place to hide from her family just a few towns over. Mired in the past, the town's residents are jolted into the present when three strange Chinese women, including Richard's long-lost wife, arrive during the Dragon Boat Festival looking for their husbands. After years of her absence, Richard struggles to adapt his bachelor lifestyle to accommodate a woman who has become a stranger to him, and Chloe dreams of starting over somewhere new when Richard abandons her bed. Ryan's fluid flashbacks allow the past to sweep over the collective population of Locke, and her elegant female protagonists manage to exercise their own agency even when they're hemmed in by life in Locke. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
On a foggy morning in 1928, the arrival of a boat carrying three women upsets the equilibrium of Locke, a small California community created by Chinese immigrants in which the minister’s wife is the only white women not a prostitute. No life is more altered than that of Richard Fong, manager of the Lucky Fortune Gambling Hall, who left his wife, Ming Wai, in China 10 years earlier to make his fortune in America and has yet to return to see her. One of many men in Locke without a woman, he consorted first with brothel operator and seer Madame Poppy See, then with one of her younger girls—until he finds that a worn Ming Wai is one of the women in the boat. Poppy, who still loves Richard and is disturbed by the arrival of the women, must determine whether her concerns are dreams fueled by jealousy or premonitions of danger. Ryan explores love, desire, loss, and betrayal as she combines history and myth in lyrical prose that is both delicate and sensuous. An accomplished and affecting first novel. --Michele Leber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
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...)
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
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.