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Love and Other Consolation Prizes: A Novel…
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Love and Other Consolation Prizes: A Novel

by Jamie Ford

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Jamie Ford’s debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, was historical fiction about the love and friendship between a Chinese-American boy and a Japanese-American girl in Seattle and during the internment in World War II.

In this book, Ford returns to the theme of a relationship between a Chinese-American boy and a Japanese-American girl in Seattle, this time during a period for the most part bracketed by the two Seattle World Fairs, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909 and the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. The story goes back and forth in time, as did Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

When this story begins in 1962, Ernest Young, now in his 60’s, is preparing to be interviewed by one of his two daughters, Juju, a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper. Juju has convinced her editor to let her write a then-and-now piece about the grand opening of the new world’s fair, seen through the eyes of those who happened to attend the original Alaska-Pacific-Yukon Expo in 1909. Her father is one of those, and she discovers to her astonishment that it is he who was the subject of a 1909 article she found about a young boy auctioned off at the Fair. [This part is based on a real-life story, although the boy named Ernest was an infant at the time; in this book, Ernest is 12 when the auction occurs.]

Juju wants to know his story, but Ernest has secrets he doesn't want her to know. Moreover, he is dealing with his wife Gracie’s memory loss. But Grace’s memory, perhaps spurred by Juju’s questions, seems to be coming back, and she herself contributes to part of the story for Juju. The doctor told Ernest this could happen: “the human body is a marvelous work and a wonder.”

Ernest explains to Juju that he left China as a 5-year-old during a time of war and famine. He was taken by an “uncle” [what we now call a "coyote"] to America to be sold. On the boat, he was put into a holding area with other children. One of the young girls, Fahn, was Japanese, first sold to China, and now being sold again. She was around three years older than he was. Nevertheless, he impulsively told her “I’m going to marry you.” She replied, “I am sorry. No one will ever marry us.”

Ernest ended up in Seattle, living in a series of boarding houses. No one adopted him; “he wasn’t Chinese enough for an Asian family and wasn’t white enough for a Caucasian home.” He was "sponsored" however by a Mrs. Irvine, a “crusader for virtue,” a cold woman who found offense in everything she saw. She told Ernest she wanted him to train to be a custodian. When he said he wanted to go to another home instead, she decided to auction him off at the Alaska-Pacific-Yukon Expo “for a good cause.”

The winning ticket was held not by a family as Ernest had hoped, but by Florence Nettleton, a.k.a. Madam Flora, of the Tenderloin Bordello. She intended Ernest to be their houseboy doing odd jobs.

To his surprise he ran into Fahn there, working as a scullery maid. It had been seven years since they came over together on the ship, but she recognized him and asked, “are you still going to marry me?” Fahn and everyone else assured him the Tenderloin was a wonderful place to work, and it was. Madam Flora took in castaways and gave them jobs. [The story of Madam Flora seems to have been modeled in part on the real-life madam Lou Graham, who was a famous madame in Seattle. In addition to running her lavish, high-end brothel, she contributed a great deal of money to the education of the city’s children.] Indeed, without Madam Flora, Ernest told Juju, “I might have wound up as a street kid, eventually sent to a poorhouse, or a reform school that was more like a jail, or worse….” And most importantly, “If I didn’t end up in the Tenderloin, I might never have met your mother.”

Ernest was immediately drawn to Fahn, but also to Maisie, another young girl with an unknown status at the house. Maisie told Ernest, “We’re like a big happy family at the Tenderloin; Fahn and me are like Irish twins.” She clarified that Madam Flora was her mother, although Flora told everyone Maisie was her younger sister, because having a child was “bad for business.”

But Madam Flora was suffering from the advanced stages of syphilis, and had more and more days where she was losing contact with reality. To pay for her treatment, Miss Amber, Flora’s managing partner, decided that Maisie must have a “coming out” party. This took place when any of the girls destined to be “upstairs girls” turned 16; these virgins were auctioned to the highest bidder. Everyone was upset about it, but Maisie loved her mother and coped by rationalizing “it’s only one night.”

To Ernest's astonishment, Fahn was upset that Maisie was picked instead of her. She wanted to be an upstairs girl, and Ernest was appalled. Fahn, angry over the rejection, ran off to a lower class brothel.

Ernest was emotionally overwhelmed; he was in love with both Maisie and Fahn, and now it seemed both of them were destined for a life he wouldn’t wish for them.

On top of the other problems, women like Mrs. Irvine, opposed to the idea of “immorality” in any form, were getting more successful. [In 1909 in real life, newly elected Seattle Mayor John F. Miller, in part as a response to the constant marching of more and more women, ordered the “disorderly houses” in Seattle’s red light districts closed. Miller endorsed “the purpose of segregating vice and the establishing of a thoroughly regulated district as the best practicable means at hand of dealing with the social evil.”] The Tenderloin received notice it was being shut down. Tragedy ensued all around.

At one time Maisie had told Ernest, “My theory is that the best, worst, happiest, saddest, scariest, and most memorable moments are all connected. Those are the important times, good and bad. The rest is just filler.’” Or as Ernest was told by “Professor True” who played the piano at the Tenderloin, “There are people in our lives whom we love, and lose, and forever long for. They orbit our hearts like Halley’s Comet, crossing into our universe only once, or if we’re lucky, twice in a lifetime. And when they do, they affect our gravity.”

Ernest finds all of this to be true.

Evaluation: This author has a knack for constructing beautiful love stories while at the same time seamlessly filling in historical details of bygone eras. The issues he explores, like poverty, prostitution, cultural clashes, decency, and devotion, are well treated, and add depth and poignancy to his stories. This is an excellent book. ( )
  nbmars | Oct 4, 2017 |
I received a free advance e-copy of this book and have chosen to write an honest and unbiased review. I have no personal affiliation with the author. This is an extremely well written piece of historical fiction based on something that really happened and is presented to us as a ‘what if’ story. In fact a 1-month-old orphaned boy was really raffled away as a prize at the 1909 Alaskan Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle. Apparently no one claimed the prize and no one seems to know what really happened to the boy. The author follows Ernest, a mixed race Chinese orphan, from his origins in China through the 1909 Expo and tells the story of his life through the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. I was not aware that such things happened in our country. This is a tragic and shameful piece of American history that has been possibly covered up and forgotten. Jamie Ford is a true storyteller. This is a story about race, morality, culture, and the human condition. Once I began reading I couldn’t put it down. Wow! This is an incredible story that is well worth the read. I also found this book to be extremely thought provoking. I look forward to reading more from Jamie Ford in the future. ( )
  iadam | Sep 25, 2017 |
Leaving your mother at age five, going with a stranger, and living in the bowels of a boat to America was not something anyone would wish for a child but what was done back in 1909.

Yung had to leave his mother because they both were starving, and her hope was for a better life for her son.

When Yung got to America, his name was changed to Ernest, and he spent his first few years at a school where he was always the underling even though a rich woman, Mrs. Irvine, was paying for his room and board.

One day Mrs. Irvine told Ernest she was taking him to the World's Fair. She didn't take him to enjoy it, but to be auctioned off in a raffle as a strong, healthy boy.

Ernest ended up being won by the owner of a brothel as a houseboy, and the place he met his wife.

Now his childhood and his life before children and marriage were coming to light. His daughter is a reporter and is investigating the World's Fair and stories she heard about those who attended. She knew her father had been there and wants to know everything.

Ernest didn't want to tell his daughter his story because then she would find out about her mother's life at that time. It was a life that wasn't anything to be proud of. Gracie was now suffering from dementia, and Ernest was hoping she wouldn't accidentally remember the life she led when she was young and tell her daughter.

We follow Ernest from his childhood to present day and learn what life was like for him in both times. We get a well-researched glimpse into everyday living during the early 1900’s as well as the life in a brothel.

LOVE AND OTHER CONSOLATION PRIZES is another marvelous, stunning, beautifully told story by Jamie Ford with characters that will steal your heart.

Mr. Ford knows how to tell a story and keep your interest with his meticulous historical research, his history lesson, and his superb writing style.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book - I hope you are able to also read it. 5/5

This book was given to me free of charge and without compensation by the publisher and Net Galley in return for an honest review. ( )
  SilversReviews | Sep 12, 2017 |
What a powerful, up close and personal, emotional ride featuring Ernest Young/aka Yung Kun-ai, and we walk in his shoes throughout the novel.
With a start in China our little fellow tells of horrible happenings, and being so hungry, he gleaned a harvest rice plot for a few scraps, and then he is gone. What is remarkable that he survived at all, and in doing so we meet his two daughters.
Talk about the down trodden, we meet them and through Ernest we walk in their shoes, and from the shores of China to Seattle. He was born to Chinese mother and an English father, and as such was an outcast, in both China and America.
The Worlds Fairs in Seattle, yes the one in early 1900, and again in late 1950’s are the back drop for a lot of this story, along with a brothel, and what the two have to do with each other, you are on one amazing journey once you turn the first page.
It took me a little bit to figure out who Grace was, and then more surprises are about to fall. A book to tear your heart, and again warm it, and you will be quickly be absorbed in the lives of the people and events that follow young Ernest.
I received this book through Net Galley and Ballantine Books, and was not required to give a positive review. ( )
  alekee | Sep 12, 2017 |
Fans of Jamie Ford’s previous novels will not be disappointed with his most recent work, Love and Other Consolation Prizes. Based on a true story, Ford weaves the tale of Yung, a young boy born into extreme poverty, who is also an outcast because he is half-Chinese, half-American.

In desperation, his starving mother sends him away on a ship, hoping that he will have a better life. She gives him one parting gift--a hairpin. This gift becomes his good luck charm and he carries it with him throughout his life.

After arriving in America, he is renamed Earnest Young and is bounced around from one orphanage to another until one “benefactor” has the idea of raffling him off at the first Seattle World’s Fair in 1909. Much to the benefactor’s dismay, the winning ticket holder is the madame of the classiest brothel in town.

Ernest begins his life in the brothel by running errands and other miscellaneous tasks for the women who work there. It is here he meets the two loves of his life -- Maisie, the precocious daughter of the owner, and Fahn, a girl who came over from China on the same ship with him.

The story moves back and forth in a dual timeline as Ernest tells his daughters the story of his life and the life of their mother, Gracie, who is ill with a form of dementia. Even though much of the story takes place in a brothel, readers are not privy to the closed door activities of the working girls.

Set amidst the backdrop of amusement parks and social upheaval, Ford successfully gives readers a sweet story of love and hope in spite of difficult circumstances. I enjoyed the characters, loved the ending and found this a pleasure to read.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine for allowing me to read an advance copy and give my honest review. ( )
  tamidale | Aug 26, 2017 |
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Epigraph
Pleasing moments we knew
I will set them apart
Every word, every sign
Will be burned in my heart.
---from "Non, je ne regrette rien,"
performed by Edith Piaf
Dedication
For Haley, Karissa, Madison, and Kass.  When you graduated I wanted to skip "Pomp and Circumstance" and play " Ride of the Valkyries."
First words
Ernest Young stood outside the gates on opening day of the new world's fair, loitering in the shadow of the future.
Quotations
"Parents always have a story that their children don't really know," Ernest said.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0804176752, Hardcover)

From the bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet comes a powerful novel, inspired by a true story, about a boy whose life is transformed at Seattle’s epic 1909 World’s Fair.

For twelve-year-old Ernest Young, a charity student at a boarding school, the chance to go to the World’s Fair feels like a gift. But only once he’s there, amid the exotic exhibits, fireworks, and Ferris wheels, does he discover that he is the one who is actually the prize. The half-Chinese orphan is astounded to learn he will be raffled off—a healthy boy “to a good home.”

The winning ticket belongs to the flamboyant madam of a high-class brothel, famous for educating her girls. There, Ernest becomes the new houseboy and befriends Maisie, the madam’s precocious daughter, and a bold scullery maid named Fahn. Their friendship and affection form the first real family Ernest has ever known—and against all odds, this new sporting life gives him the sense of home he’s always desired.

But as the grande dame succumbs to an occupational hazard and their world of finery begins to crumble, all three must grapple with hope, ambition, and first love.

Fifty years later, in the shadow of Seattle’s second World’s Fair, Ernest struggles to help his ailing wife reconcile who she once was with who she wanted to be, while trying to keep family secrets hidden from their grown-up daughters.

Against a rich backdrop of post-Victorian vice, suffrage, and celebration, Love and Other Consolations is an enchanting tale about innocence and devotion—in a world where everything, and everyone, is for sale.

PRAISE FOR JAMIE FORD

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet 

“A wartime-era Chinese-Japanese variation on Romeo and Juliet . . . The period detail [is] so revealing and so well rendered.”The Seattle Times

“Mesmerizing and evocative . . . a tale of conflicted loyalties and timeless devotion.”—Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants

“A poignant story that transports the reader back in time . . . a satisfying and heart-wrenching tale.”Deseret Morning News

Songs of Willow Frost 

“Arresting . . . [with] the kind of ending readers always hope for, but seldom get.”The Dallas Morning News

“[A] poignant tale of lost and found love.”—Tampa Bay Times

“Remarkable . . . likely to appeal to readers who enjoy the multigenerational novels of Amy Tan.”—Bookreporter

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 02 May 2017 06:50:12 -0400)

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