Smallpox and Xenophobia: Background information when reading Frog Music

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Frog Music

by Emma Donoghue

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue X
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2014, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2015, 432 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Smallpox and Xenophobia

Print Review

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.

Quarantine Poster 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

Article by Norah Piehl

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.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Gateway to the Moon
    Gateway to the Moon
    by Mary Morris
    Miguel Torres is a teenager living in Entrada de la Luna, a poverty-stricken dot on the New Mexico ...
  • Book Jacket: New World, Inc.
    New World, Inc.
    by Simon Targett, John Butman
    When we think about the founding of America, we typically envision Pilgrims in black garb and boxy ...
  • Book Jacket: New World, Inc.
    New World, Inc.
    by Simon Targett, John Butman
    When we think about the founding of America, we typically envision Pilgrims in black garb and boxy ...
  • Book Jacket: The Ensemble
    The Ensemble
    by Aja Gabel
    In May 1994, the members of the Van Ness String Quartet are completing their final graduate recital ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Harbor of Spies by Robin Lloyd

A captivating thriller-at-sea set in Spanish colonial Havana in the 1860s.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Sometimes I Lie
    by Alice Feeney

    This brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something a lie if you believe it's the truth?
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Comedown

The Comedown by Rebekah Frumkin

A blistering dark comedy that explores delineating lines of race, class, religion, and time.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I Wouldn't T H W A T-F P

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

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.