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Lost Daughter of Happiness by Geling Yan

Lost Daughter of Happiness (original 1996; edition 2010)

by Geling Yan

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1076112,824 (3.22)8
Title:Lost Daughter of Happiness
Authors:Geling Yan
Info:Faber and Faber (2010), Paperback
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:Fiction, contemporary fiction, historical fiction

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The Lost Daughter of Happiness by Geling Yan (1996)



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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
The Lost Daughter of Happiness is a remarkable novel, a love story unlike any I've read. It unfolds in alternating points of view. Writing in the second person, as if she were speaking to Fusang, looking back at Fusang's life from the present day, the narrator's language is factual, unemotional, sometimes bordering on contemptuous: You are a prostitute, she says, brought to California from China, one who didn't die during the long voyage, who didn't succumb to disease or beatings after being sold into slavery. "I certainly won't let people confuse you with any of the other three thousand whores from China." Occasionally the narrator quotes histories of the California Gold Rush from which she draws her account of Fusang. Occasionally she tells Fusang tidbits about her own life as a recent Chinese immigrant, about her own perplexity understanding the ways of white people, including her husband.

In this new novel, set in the 1870s, she has borrowed a figure from history, Fusang, the most famous prostitute in San Francisco, and has imagined an unusual lover for her, a 12 year old white boy named Chris.
Approaching the issue of anti-Chinese racism through these two characters, she tells a tale of slavery, rape and murder, and, ostensibly, love. I say ostensibly because Chris and Fusang remain completely opaque throughout the novel; we can never comprehend their motivations or thought processes.

( )
  AlexisLovesBooks | Feb 9, 2016 |
I understand why Harriet is the #1 reviewer - she put in words exactly how I felt about the book. I thought the setting and "history" of the period was interesting, but I just could not become attached to any of the characters. ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 16, 2013 |
The nightmare of life in post Civil War San Francisco for Chinese immigrants is exposed in this quasi love story.

Chris, aged 12 is fascinated, then obsessed throughout his life, by the 20-year old Chinese whore, Fusang, who lives in sexual slavery. As he matures, his picture of the woman develops and he sees her tolerance – even fondness – for cruel treatment that indicate she’s either a masochist, or eternally accepting and loyal. In turn, his own tolerance (once admiration) for Chinese culture as it is manifested in San Francisco withers.

The third leg of the love triangle in this novel belongs to Da Yong, a Chinese hood/mobster who keeps Fusang in his thrall and is Chris’ nemesis. Readers may find him stereotypical rather than individualized.

Yan writes a book that examines issues of sexual slavery and racism in a nightmare within a dream style, interweaving chronology and point of view in an utterly original way that is ambitious, eloquent, unique.

The novel is an unforgettable post-multicultural examination of major themes that sadly, and too often tragically, persist today, only not in the open as they did in the period this story is set. ( )
  Limelite | Dec 9, 2012 |
The beautiful Fusang is brought to the city of 1860's San Francisco as a prostitute after being kidnapped from her home in China. There, she is sold from brothel to brothel, continually crossing paths with Chris, a young American boy who falls in love with her.

I did not care for this book, and one of the main reasons was the way that it was written. The style was, above all, detached and bland. There were no quotation marks, something I always dislike (I always wonder why an author would choose to write this way?), and there were no chapters. It made the book feel even more like a droning narrative.
But more importantly, there was an omniscient sort of narrator, who wrote in 2nd person, addressing Fusang as "you," as if perhaps they are reminding Fusang of her own memories. Often, the narrator would tell Fusang to do things, or give her little bits of advice, such as "Look at the customer, now, that's it..." But later on, the narrator reveals herself to be a modern-day woman who was born 128 years after Fusang. So it just didn't make any sense.
And by the way, revealing the narrator's "identity" was utterly pointless and one of the most terribly laughable things I have ever, ever encountered in narrative fiction. This is never mentioned again, anywhere. It was just thrown in at random.
Then, it would sometimes switch to Fusang's story being told quite regularly, in 3rd person (much better). The problem was that these two different styles would often overlap and go over the same things. The narrator might say: "You walk down the street - watch where you're going, now!"
And then the other form of the story will pick that up a few pages later and say "Fusang walked down the street."
It was confusing, pointless, and annoying.

The second thing I did not like about this book was our heroine, Fusang, herself. She appeared to have few feelings about any of the events in her life. When she is married by proxy to a man whom she may never meet (he is in America, sending money back to his family), we cannot exactly tell what she thinks about this change. When she is kidnapped and sold into prostitution, she never betrays any emotion, either. Though it is always stated quite certainly that Chris loves her, it is never clear if Fusang cares for Chris at all.
Perhaps a lot of this could be blamed on Fusang's stupidity - the second reason I disliked her. Bricks have been known to exhibit more intelligence.
When she is kidnapped, Fusang allows herself to be lured away by a strange man onto his boat. When he has her tied up, he assures her that this is because "women crossing the sea aren't allowed to have two legs, it's a violation of ocean law." Fusang accepts this without question, and when she sees a member of her family running to the shore in an attempt to save her, she simply waves goodbye, smiling ignorantly.
She seems not to understand what being a prostitute actually is, even after she has been one for years, later in the story.
She forgets every man she has ever slept with, and when they remind her of their nights together, she simply smiles stupidly at them. Whenever she met Chris again, sometimes I would wonder if she even remembered who he was.
On the other hand, I did find tiny glimpses into the character I think Yan was trying to write. Fusang can at times a simplistically charming girl who remains unaffected by her tragic life, a girl who is too good to be ruined by it. She puts on lipstick not because she is trying to lure customers, but for the simple reason that she likes how it tastes. As many times as her madames beat her, she never makes any attempt to interest potential customers, letting them approach her instead.
But even with these occasional little bits of a personality, she was a heroine I found it very hard to root for.

The only thing that I found interesting about this book was the distinctly Asian feel to it, despite it being set in an American city. It was easy to forget that I was in San Francisco, as it seemed so Chinese. It is fascinating that there are so many Chinatowns all over the world, where the Chinese people have managed to retain their culture and set up a town within a city, just for themselves.

This sounded like such a good premise for a story - a rich young American boy falling in love with a Chinese prostitute. But Chris appeared only a few times, and their romance never seemed convincing. That combined with the bland heroine and awkward writing style ruined the book for me. ( )
1 vote joririchardson | May 3, 2011 |
I started to read this book but wasn't really enjoying it, so I stopped.
  isabelx | Feb 27, 2011 |
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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.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0571207669, Paperback)

Narrated in a haunting voice that mulls over painful truths of the past, this is an unflinching, erotic tale of forbidden love in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. Fusang is a Chinese girl who is shanghaied from her village and brought to San Francisco, where she enters a seedy underworld.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:01 -0400)

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Chinese immigrants.

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