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The Lost Daughter of Happiness: A Novel    by Geling Yan order for
Lost Daughter of Happiness
by Geling Yan
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This novel was translated by Cathy Silber. Its author, Geling Yan, who immigrated to the United States from China in 1989, addresses its protagonist throughout. This makes for an unusual perspective, that of a somewhat cynical modern researcher in a one way conversation with her historical subject. It allows for commentary on both periods, and for comparisons of the Chinese immigrant experience, then and now. For example, the author quotes Jack London, one of her childhood favorites because of his 'impartial understanding of wolves'. Apparently he said that the Chinese were 'treacherous, lazy, ... and would be of no benefit whatsoever to America.'

Fusang was kidnapped from China to be sold into prostitution and slavery, at auction in San Francisco. She was fooled by her kidnappers who claimed to be taking her to her unmet husband in America. There Fusang was purchased by the cruel Ah Ding, who ruled the community by terror while dreaming of his unkown wife in China. Fusang's existence is displayed in context of strong prejudice against Chinese immigrants, and of enormous incomprehension of their culture. She seems distanced from her new existence, until the obsession of a 'little white devil', twelve-year-old Chris, breaks through to her. Chris comes from a wealthy and intolerant German family.

Chris saves Fusang's life, but changes in the process so that he begins to condone violence against her people. When slave owner Ah Ding / Da Yong carries her off in chains, Chris does not understand until later in life that 'Whether you set her free or enslaved her, her freedom came completely from within.' There are periodic encounters as Fusang becomes a famous whore and is fought over. These turn Chris's feelings to hatred, so that he 'wanted to smash everything he couldn't understand' and an encounter follows which makes him 'a prisoner for life of his own conscience.' Geling Yan muses on mob violence, again comparing with her own experience ... 'When I was a child I saw those sexual impulses they called the cultural revolution and those orgasms they called rebellion.'

Though the author provides strong hints of what was between Fusang and Da Yong, Fusang's relationship with Chris is harder to comprehend. All we are told is that 'he had never, ever understood Fusang' and that 'Marriage had protected him forever from love.' The Lost Daughter of Happiness is a powerful novel, though at times as opaque as the barrier of misunderstanding between the boy Chris and Fusang.

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