Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Fortunes - Peter Ho Davies

Book Details

Book Title: The Fortunes

Author: Peter Ho Davies

: Sceptre

Source: Sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Page Count: 268

Format: Hardback

Genre: Historical Fiction

ISBN/Link To Book On Amazon: 978-0340980231

Audience: Those who enjoy important historical events and themes, with a fictional twist.

Summed up in one word: Identity (one of many words to describe this work)

Author Bio: Peter Ho Davies was born in Britain to Welsh and Chinese parents. He is now a professor of creative writing at the University Of Michigan in the US. PHD's previous works include the Sunday Times bestseller Welsh Girl (2007), Equal Love (2000) and The Ugliest House In The World (1997).

First Impression: Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, though it can be frustrating having to research what is true and what is not. Luckily, in The Fortunes, a large amount of the book is based on events that really happened in the last 150 years concerning Chinese people living in america. This is a perfect balance of fiction and reality. The four stories we are shown in this book are filled with cultural, emotional and personal struggles. From the building of the Central Pacific Railway in the 1800's by Chinese workers, to a couple adopting a baby from China to raise in America. This is an important book that people need to read.

Summary of the Story: 

The Fortunes is a collection of eye-opening stories spanning the last 150 years of American History, told from the incredible perspective of the Chinese people living in the country at the time. Drawing on historical figures and his own mixed race experience, Peter Ho Davies shows us what it was like to be a foreigner in a country that you call home, the challenge of the abuse, cultural differences, identity crisis/mistaken identity and racism that minorities face every day from fellow citizens. In The Fortunes we follow:

Ah Ling and his experience in 1860's america, scraping a living and helping open the way for thousands of Chinese workers to help build the Central Pacific Railway.

Anna May Wong and her experience of being the first breakthrough Chinese/American movie star and all the limitations/issues that come with that role.

Vincent Chin, a case of mistaken identity, or mistaken nationality. Killed by auto workers in 1982 because he looked Japanese.

John Ling Smith and his journey to China with his wife to pick up their adopted daughter Mei Mei. They both get to experience the potent cultural differences between the USA and China, on many different levels. 


Plot: There are multiple stories told here. Four potent, jaw dropping, emotional and tear jerking tales. Gold, Silver, Jade and Pearl. Each story has its own set of themes, perspectives and subject matter, though they are all united through one important element, Identity. First we have Ling, arriving in America during the Gold rush, he has big dreams of riches and respect, though he only experiences these delights from the outside. 

Then we meet Anna May Wong, the first real Chinese/American movie star. Her life is one big story, everything revolves around her public image, principals and rumours. Even though she has all the fame, Anna still experiences the limitations of being a minority. Trying to find courage and identity, Anna tours China to explore herself. 

Vincent Chin died on his bachelor night, he was not perfect but he was killed due to other people's stupidity. His death united the minorities in America and they started a movement. 

John Smith has Chinese heritage, and as he and his wife are unable to have healthy children, they decide to adopt a Chinese orphan. Their travels to meet Mei Mei are taxing on John as he tries to figure out his own identity and the responsibilities of raising a minority in a different culture.

Setting: The setting in The Fortunes is important from a cultural perspective. Having that contrasting cultural difference really outlines the extremes of how much the Chinese and other groups of nationalities struggled to integrate and also remain as part of everyday american life. Seeing the USA from a Chinese immigrants point of view is extraordinary as is a American/Chinese citizen seeing China for the first time. 

Characters: By the time Ah Ling reaches America, he has already endured more drama and pain than we would in our entire adult life. Keeping it together and working in a Chinese Laundry, Ling dreams of wealth and opportunity. He is a headstrong character and a great representation of those immigrants who came to america for gold and staying for opportunities. 

Anna May Wong is a famous historical figure, you can read all about her online, the thoughts, experiences and opinions that are expressed here are not her own, but Davies captures the internal struggle she would have had during her career. 

We experience Vincent Chin's story through the eyes of his friend who was present on the night of his murder. His friend explains the background of Vincent, himself and their childhood together. He also goes into detail about the events of that evening, the what ifs and some information about the attackers. Based on a real killing, this area of book is mainly violence and regret. Out of the ashes of this tragedy bursts the Asian American Movement, which helped unite the minorities.

Finally we spend time with John Smith. On his travels to China to meet his new daughter, John goes through an existential crisis. John questions his past, his identity and his ability to raise a Chinese daughter in an american world.

Themes: There are hundreds of moving, inspirational and gravely upsetting themes with these pages. Racism, Identity, Culture, Abuse, Death, Money, Pain and Suffering. The themes make this book. The author lives these experiences being a mixed race person in a strong minded country. He knows these themes through and through, this definitely shows.

 Likes: Potency, Integrity and Integration. I loved the fact that this book stands for so much, but doesn't heap the blame on any one element or country. This book highlights so many truths and I am glad to have had the opportunity to read it. The detail. research, time and effort really shows.

Dislikes: The contrast in perspectives worked to keep the content fresh to the reader, but I felt it was quite unnecessary to have it as diverse as it was. I know the book has been written so thats that, I am just saying some uniformity would have made for more comfortable reading.

Rating: I have focused a lot of the story of this book in this review because the people and themes in this book deserve respect and I don't think me over-analysing them will do it any justice. I don't typically read books like this, I am more of a Science-Fiction/Fantasy guy. I just wanted to get the point across that I enjoyed this book in the fact that it stands for many things, the stories are told well, the author did a great job and though the writing styles differ from chapter to chapter which was some what annoying as it changed the pacing repeatedly, I am glad I read this book.


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