Ernest Young was smuggled into America from China and then eventually raffled off to a winner at the 1909 Seattle World’s Fair. The winning ticket was held by Miss Flora, who ran the famous and high-class Tenderloin brothel in the red light district. Working at the Tenderloin, Ernest falls for two girls – one who had come over on the ship with him and the other is Miss Flora’s “little sister”, Maisie. In 1962, the World’s Fair is once again held in Seattle, and now Ernest’s journalist daughter is digging into his past. Ernest’s wife has been dealing with dementia lately, but it seems her memories of that time are returning as well. Ernest begins to share with his daughter, but wants to continue to protect his dearly beloved wife – even if she can’t remember why or what she was keeping secret. This is a beautifully written love story which is based on true events.
I got hooked right from the beginning; the story starts in China with a heartbreaking scene with Ernest and his mother. They are poorer than poor, and because Ernest is half-white, he is even more of an outcast. No one wants him. This is his beginning. The ladies in his life are strong and spirited and all leave their mark on him. He then has two daughters, who are each strong and spirited and seem to have taken the best from both Ernest and his wife.
I had never read Jamie Ford before, though many have recommended Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet to me many times. I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Ford speak on a panel at ALA this year and I was sucked into his talk about this book. I had a feeling that I would like it. And quite frankly, I’ll be reading his other books too.
And can I just take a moment to say that someone back in 1909 actually put a child up for raffle? This was a great idea back then, and of course anyone could win this human child and do whatever they pleased? Incredible (and clearly not in a good way).
Love and Other Consolation Prizes
by Jamie Ford
Ballantine Books, 2017