Synopses & Reviews
When gold rush fever gripped the globe in 1849, thousands of Chinese immigrants came through San Francisco seeking fortune. In The Poker Bride, Christopher Corbett uses a little-known Idaho legend as a lens into this Chinese experience. Before 1849, the Chinese in the United States were little more than curiosities. But as word spread of the discovery of gold, they soon became a regular sight in the American West. In San Francisco, a labyrinthine Chinatown arose where Chinese smuggled into the country were deposited. Polly, a young Chinese concubine, accompanied her owner to a mining camp in the highlands of Idaho. After he lost her in a poker game, Polly found her way with her new owner to an isolated ranch on the banks of the Salmon River. As the gold rush receded, it took with it the Chinese miners, but left behind Polly, who would make headlines when she emerged from the Idaho hills nearly half a century later to visit a modern city and tell her story. The Poker Bride vividly reconstructs a lost period of history when the first Chinese sojourners flooded into the country and left only glimmering traces of their presence scattered across the American West.
"This unruly book mixes a wonderful mystery- wrapped story with the larger picture of Chinese immigration into the American West. The central story concerns a young Chinese woman sold by her family in 1872 into indentured prostitution. She turns up as a concubine in Idaho, is said then to have been won by another man in a poker game, and became Polly Bemis, the winner's legal, beloved wife in the remote wilderness of Idaho. Polly emerged into public view only in 1923, a tiny old woman on horseback, her identity and story known only to a few old-timers. Corbett wisely sets Bemis's life into the context of Chinese immigration, gold- country anti-Chinese prejudice, and life in the mining communities and remote fastnesses of Idaho a hundred years ago. The trouble is that Corbett also gives us over and over again every tale about Bemis, many of them conflicting, many more incomplete, and many no doubt apocryphal, clogging the work and making it longer than necessary. We need more of former AP editor and novelist Corbett's (Vacationland) own reflections, less of every one else's surmises and tales." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Christopher Corbett has brought home a tale delicate and sad and not a little bit heroic, and in doing so he has rescued from oblivion an extraordinary chapter of the immigrant experience in America. With The Poker Bride and his earlier reconsideration of the Pony Express, Orphans Preferred, Corbett has established himself as a fresh and thoughtful voice in the historical realm of the American West.”David Simon, author of Homicide: A Life on the Killing Streets and producer of The Wire
In The Poker Bride, Christopher Corbett delves deep into the soul of the real old west, using the story of one Chinese sojournera young woman named Pollyas the thread to link a thousand pearls of fact and lore and whatever you call those fragments of story that lie somewhere in between. All I can say is, Twain would be proud.”Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City
There is no alkali dust in these pages. The Poker Bride is a gorgeously written and brilliantly researched saga of America during the mad flush of its biggest Gold Rush. Christopher Corbetts genius is to anchor his larger story of Chinese immigration around a poor concubine named Polly. A tremendous achievement.”Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast
In Corbetts expert hands, the extraordinary story of Polly Bemis, the unlettered Chinese concubine lost in a poker game, acquires tragic grandeur without losing any of its comical unpredictability.”Christoph Irmscher, author of The Poetics of Natural History, Longfellow Redux and Public Poet, Private Man
Utilizing his skills as a literary detective to piece together this saga of boom times during the Gold Rush, Christopher Corbett introduces us to one of the more beguiling characters to emerge from the Wild West. He tells the story of Polly Bemisthe poker bridewith panache, sensitivity, and wondrous detail.”Wil Haygood, author of In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr.
The Poker Bride offers a compelling look at a largely invisibleand mostly unrememberedpopulation of the mid-19th century American West: Chinese laborers and prostitutes. In chronicling the life of one Chinese girl who was sold into slavery, brought to Idaho, and ceded to a man during a poker game, author Christopher Corbett weaves a fascinating tale about the underbelly of the Wild West.”Laura Wexler, author of Fire in a Canebrake
On July 8, 1872, a young Chinese concubine arrived by horse in Idaho gold country, where a white gambler soon won her in a poker game. and so begins Christopher Corbett's amazing tale of the Chinese in the making of the American Westa slice of largely forgotten history that is by turns funny, chilling, and poignant.”Jill Jonnes, author of Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World
When gold rush fever grips the globe in 1849, thousands of Chinese immigrants come through San Francisco on their way to seek their fortunes. In "The Poker Bride," Corbett uses a little-known legend from Idaho lore as a lens into this Chinese experience.
About the Author
Christopher Corbett has been a working journalist for over twenty-five years. A former news editor and reporter with the Associated Press, Corbett has also written for the New York Times
, Washington Post
, Philadelphia Inquirer
, and Boston Globe
. Author of the novel Vacationland
as well as Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express
, he lives in Baltimore and teaches journalism at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.