Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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
"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." Publisher's Weekly
About the Author
Shawna Yang Ryan was born in Sacramento, California, and received her BA from the University of California, Berkeley, and her MA from the University of California, Davis. In 2002, she was a Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan. Water Ghosts, originally published as Locke 1928, was a finalist for the 2008 Northern California Book Award. She currently lives in Berkeley.