Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Kim's Review: The Lost Daughter Of Happiness

Geling Yan's "Lost Daughter of Happiness" is set in San Francisco during the Gold Rush Era. The story revolves around Fusang, a young girl kidnapped from her home in China, shipped under inhuman conditions to San Francisco and sold into prostitution at China town.

Whether, Fusang has resigned herself to her situation, too slow-witted to realise her predicament, has the serenity of a saint or just too amiable a disposition is not clear. But whatever her reasons or her qualities, they help keep her alive in a profession where her fellow workers contract innumerable diseases and drop dead like flies.

The other girls in your line of work started losing their hair at eighteen, their teeth at nineteen, and by twenty, with their vacant eyes and decrepit faces, they were as good as dead, silent as dust.

 There is a bit of a love triangle too. Chris a young boy of European descent first purchases her services as a 12 year old "little white devil", he is besotted with her and follows her around and even saves her life, but he faces tremendous pressure from his family and society to conform. Ah Ding / Da Yong is a Chinese mafioso of types who may or may not be the husband she was married to, in absentia in China. He controls a large part of all the prostitution rackets and other gang activity in China town, slowly involving himself in fostering a union of underpaid and overworked Chinese mining labourers. He is not sure of his feelings for Fusang, especially after she is gangraped.

Fusang is sold in slave auctions, has people coming from miles to see her deformed bound feet, has suitors fight bloody duels for her, almost dies of TB, is saved by the Christian ladies of the Rescue society, stolen back by Da Yong, brutally gangraped by a white mob, yet she survives it all.

Fusang is a real person who achieved a notorious kind of celebrity in her time, Geling Yan may have tried to unravel the mystery around her, but reading the book just left me with more questions.

The narrator is a later wave Chinese immigrant who tries to draw parallels between her own life and that of Fusang's, but neither her character or Fusang's is ever completely revealed. The identity of the narrator is left as a mystery and she just drops hints of what she is going through, but her voice keeps distracting from the main story, although her character doesn't develop beyond that.

The book does protray Gold Rush San Fransisco in all its ugliness, the prostitution, the hatred for Chinese immigrants among the earlier European immigrants, the stoic Chinese who just keep going back no matter what is thrown at them.

As a work of historic fiction, it is a good read with insight into the era, but as a story, at the end, the reader is left with more questions than answers.

Rating. 2.75 / 5

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