Water Ghosts: Book summary and reviews of Water Ghosts by Shawna Yang Ryan

Water Ghosts

By Shawna Yang Ryan

Water Ghosts
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  • Published in USA  Apr 2009,
    272 pages.

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Book Summary

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. Locke 1928 beautifully chronicles separation and betrayal, loneliness and longing, and what happens when a Chinese ghost story begins to come true.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Ryan's fluid flashbacks allow the past to sweep over the collective population of Locke..." - Publishers Weekly.

"As a whole, Ryan's debut feels forced, as the story moves slowly and meanders without providing enough significance to the nine principal characters she identifies in the book's opening." - Library Journal.

"Fascinating material clumsily shaped." - Kirkus Reviews.

"A beautiful debut ... opens up a page in history that sometimes is forgotten by both cultures that once coexisted in Locke, a Sacramento Chinese faming town. By mapping out the familiar and the strange territories of human passion and retelling the old myths, Shawna Yang Ryan tells a story that, in the end, is about how America was truly made. - Yiyun Li, author of Thousand Years of Good Prayers.

"[A] multilayered marvel of a book. The prose is a delight, the characters fascinating, the story richly imagined and heart-rending. This first novel of grace and substance presages a notable literary career for Shawna Yang Ryan." - John Lescroart.

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Water Ghosts was previously published by an independent, non-profit press as Locke 1928.

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