Frog Music is set in San Francisco in 1876, during a summer notable not only for its record-setting heat waves but also for its smallpox epidemic, one of many that plagued the United States during the nineteenth century even as efforts were being made to eradicate the disease through vaccination and inoculation. According to Donoghue's afterword, the 1876 epidemic left 482 (of the roughly 200,000 residents) dead, and more than 1,600 infected with the highly infectious and debilitating disease.
Donoghue depicts a San Francisco plagued by racism and xenophobia, in which white San Franciscans accused Chinese immigrants of spreading the disease, and in which Chinatown was seen as the epicenter of the plague. An article from the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper in May 1876 seems to address (and attempt to debunk) this prevalent argument: "the common notion, to the effect that the Chinese quarter is a special breeding-place of disease, is not warranted."
Unfortunately, the perceived connection between Chinese immigrants and disease persisted, often with tragic consequences, in San Francisco and elsewhere. An 1880 pamphlet from the Workingmen's party of California, simply titled "Chinatown Declared a Nuisance!" insisted that San Francisco's Chinatown was "rampant with disease." In 1900, San Francisco's Chinatown was entirely quarantined following a suspected case of bubonic plague, and that same year Honolulu's Chinatown was almost entirely destroyed following a fire intentionally set to destroy the plague. In today's Chinatowns, centers of tourism and cultural pride, few traces remain of this dark history of suspicion and Sinophobia.
For more about the Chinese in America and discrimination against them, read our Beyond the Book for Take Me Home and Calling me Home.
Picture of quarantine poster from National Library of Medicine
This article was originally published in April 2014, and has been updated for the
February 2015 paperback release.
Click here to go to this issue.
This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.
Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!
Chance favors only the prepared mind
Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!
Solve this clue:
and be entered to win..
Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.
Your guide toexceptional books
BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.