Wednesday, June 29, 2011

:BOOKSHELF: Water Ghosts by Shawna Yang Ryan

Water Ghosts: A NovelI just finished a very interesting read called Water Ghosts: A Novel by Shawna Yang Ryan.

My edition has a different cover than the one currently available on Amazon and from what I have read, this book was also previously published under another name (Locke 1928).

Here's the story summary from Booklist:
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.

The story is intriguing, no doubt, and while there several things that I really liked about this book, there were a few things that I mildly disliked as well.

Let's start with what I liked.

First of all, the prose is SO beautiful...often quite poetic which was a feast for my imagination. The scenes and characters really came to life as I was reading.

I have always been a fan of cultural and historical novels and this one fits both. There is a very strong infusion of the Chinese culture even though the novel is set primarily in California. The entire novel has overtones of the Chinese myth of water ghosts which adds and ethereal quality to the story. I also liked the fact that there is some fact to the fiction. While these precise characters and story are fictional, Locke was a real community populated by Chinese immigrants; primarily men who had to leave their women behind in China.

Okay, now for the things that keep me from giving this novel 5 stars...

First of all, the character from which the story is told changes from chapter to chapter and while this does help to develop each of the characters at a deeper level, it did make it a little harder to get a grasp on the story in the early part of the book.

On top of that, the author also shifts time periods throughout the book...same issue...just makes the story a little hard to follow at times.

My only other complaint is that there are no quotation marks! Sometimes I found myself thinking, "Did they (the character) say that...or just think it?" (See, quotations help!)

Despite my last few comments, I have to say that due to the haunting story, the complex characters and the lovely prose, I am still quite happy that I saw this novel through to the end.

Have you read Water Ghosts: A Novel (or Locke, 1928)? If so, what did you think? Have you read any other historical novels involving the Chinese culture that you enjoyed?
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