Synopses & Reviews
A mesmerizing story of a community of Chinese immigrants in a small California town in 1928, weaving history and mythology around the lives of the townspeople and the ghosts who haunt them
Locke, CA, 1928 — Three bedraggled Chinese women suddenly appear out of the mist one afternoon in a small Chinese farming town on the Sacramento River, and their arrival throws the community into confusion. Two of the women are unknown to the townspeople, while the third is the long-lost wife of Richard Fong, the handsome manager of the local gambling parlor, who had left her behind in China many years earlier and had not yet returned for her.
Richard's wife's unexpected arrival complicates his life in no small way — not least with two prostitutes at the local brothel he frequents. One, the beautiful young Chloe, depends on him but has eyes for someone else, someone even more forbidden — the local preacher's daughter. The other, Poppy, the psychic madam of the brothel, is desperately in love with him, and she begins to sink into despair as he grows further and further away from her.
As the lives of the townspeople become inextricably intertwined with the newly arrived women, Poppy's premonitions begin to foretell a deep unhappiness for all involved. And when a flood threatens the livelihood of the entire town, the frightening power of these mysterious women who arrived in the mist will be revealed.
Shawna Yang Ryan's melodic first novel is a passionate, sophisticated intertwining of fact and fiction that examines mingling cultures, modern myths, and forgotten history. Water Ghosts beautifully chronicles separation and betrayal, loneliness and longing, and what happens when a Chinese ghost story begins to come true.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"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." Booklist
"The unforgettable story of a town brought to its knees by loneliness and longing. Complicated, compassionate, haunting..." Pam Houston, author of Cowboys Are My Weakness
A mesmerizing debut novel that weaves history and mythology around a community of Chinese immigrants and the ghosts that haunt them
Locke, California, 1928. Three bedraggled Chinese women appear out of the mist in a small Chinese farming town on the Sacramento River. Two are unknown to its residents, while the third is the long-lost wife of Richard Fong, the handsome manager of the local gambling parlor. As the lives of the townspeople become inextricably intertwined with the newly arrived women, their frightening power is finally revealed.
A lyrical imagining of what happens when a Chinese ghost story comes true, Water Ghosts is a rich tale of human passions and mingling cultures that will appeal to readers of Lisa See, Anchin Min, and Gail Tsukiyama.
About the Author
Born in Sacramento, California, the child of parents who met during the Vietnam War when her father was stationed in Taiwan, Shawna Yang Ryan graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and received an M.A. from the University of California, Davis. In 2002, she was a Fulbright scholar in Taiwan. Her debut novel Locke 1928 was a finalist for the 2008 Northern California Book Award.