Summary and book reviews of The Lost Daughter of Happiness by Geling Yan

The Lost Daughter of Happiness

By Geling Yan

The Lost Daughter of Happiness
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2001,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: May 2002,
    288 pages.

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Book Summary

From one of China’s most acclaimed novelists, the award-winning screenwriter of Joan Chen’s film Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl, comes an unflinching, erotic, and exciting tale of forbidden love in turn-of-the-century San Francisco.

This powerful novel tells the story of a love affair between an enigmatic Chinese prostitute and the Caucasian boy who worships her. It is set in the aftermath of the Gold Rush era, when San Francisco was known as Gold Mountain to the millions who came seeking fortune. The book describes, in sometimes brutal detail, the anti-Chinese violence that plagued the city during this time, and portrays a seedy underworld of Chinatown brothels, gambling halls, and opium dens. Although the story is fictional, Fusang, the prostitute, is a real historical character.

The Lost Daughter of Happiness follows the main characters from childhood to old age, and is filled with a vivid cast of peripheral characters, from missionaries to gangsters. The book includes moments of tremendous cruelty (ranging from mob riots to gang bloodbaths to slave auctions) and incredible human tenderness. Narrated in a haunting voice that explores the past’s painful truths through the prism of the present, and filled with electrifying scenes that make its colorful history come alive, this mesmerizing story traces the lives of two individuals separated by prejudice and mistrust, but bound forever by love.

The Lost Daughter of Happiness

This is who you are.

The one dressed in red, slowly rising from the creaking bamboo bed, is you. The embroidery on your satin padded jacket must weigh ten catties; the parts stitched most densely are as hard as ice, or armor. From a distance of one hundred and twenty years, I am amazed by the needlework, so thoroughly beyond me.

Let me raise your chin a bit here, and bring your lips into the dim light. That's it, just right. Now I can see your whole face clearly. Don't worry--others will just find exotic the face you consider too square. To the novelty seekers of your day, your every flaw was a distinction.

Now turn around, just like all those times on the auction block. You're used to the auction; that's where pretty whores like you come to know their worth. I found pictures of those auctions in some books about Chinatown-- dozens of female bodies, totally naked, their beauty in sharp relief against the surrounding gloom.

You're ...

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Media Reviews
Publisher's Weekly

Fusang is a real historical figure about whom little is known; Yan's account does little to clarify Fusang's motives. Such opacity creates an intriguing mystery, but lack of resolution frustrates the reader. Yan's detached, dispassionate tone contributes to the sense of unreality pervading her narrative.

Library Journal

Though the historical setting is intriguing, Fusang never becomes a fully realized character, and it is unclear whether she survives her ordeals through the power of her personality or a lack of intellect.

Author Blurb Bharati Mukherjee, author of Jasmine
Cruel and sensual, Geling Yan's extraordinary novel is a dream enfolded within nightmare, and a nightmare enlightened by dream, an epic love story set in the brutal world of post-Gold Rush San Francisco and an American boy's love for a Chinese prostitute. And it is much more. The Lost Daughter of Happiness is finally a contemporary immigrant's testament to the fortitude of two historical characters, the Adam and Eve of a poisoned American garden.

Author Blurb David Henry Hwang, author of M. Butterfly
An erotic epic bursting with intelligence, forbidden emotions, and disregard for easy answers, The Lost Daughter of Happiness bravely unearths the secret fantasies and complex obsessions which pass between races, and between the sexes. With a work which suddenly makes terms like sexism and racism seem oddly quaint, Geling Yan has written the first great post-multicultural novel.

Author Blurb Aimee Liu; author of Cloud Mountain
Geling Yan is a courageous and immensely talented writer. Through a masterful interweaving of history and imagination, she has dared to face down the twin monsters of racism and sexual slavery, exposing both their vulnerability and, alas, their persistence. The result is one of the most unusual love stories I have ever read, in which the paradoxes of the human condition shimmer like threads of gold in a rich brocade.

Author Blurb Ha Jin, author of Waiting
Geling Yan stands as an eminent writer from the Chinese diaspora. Her fiction has gained a high reputation in and outside China. The Lost Daughter of Happiness is her major novel, which combines myth and history and opens a new perspective on the American immigrant experience. It is an ambitious, eloquent, and unique book.

Reader Reviews
Klaus Griesbach

The lost daughter of happiness
I am 67 years old, a passionate reader all my life, reading this book I ask myself how come that no writer from the west ever looked at love this so very true way, a masterpiece !

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