Water Ghosts by Shawna Yang Ryan
“Water Ghosts” is a mysterious little book that primarily takes place in Locke, California, a town comprised mainly of Chinese immigrant men in 1928. At the time, the US government was severely regulating Chinese immigration to the United States by rarely allowing women to come over with their husbands. This policy meant that a huge stir was created when three mysterious women showed up on a boat in the river on a day when all the townspeople of Locke are at the river for a celebration. One of the women is the wife of a man in town, a wife he has not seen for many years. Of the other two, one is married to a man who is somewhere in the United States and the other is unwed. The idea that there are now available women in their town drives many of the men crazy, forcing them to do desperate things to be noticed by these women. And yet, something about these women isn’t quite right. They have an ethereal, almost ghostly quality.
The book itself was definitely an interesting look at the life of a small, rural immigrant community in California in the first part of the last century. Most of the characters were quite interesting too. I did find the book a bit hard to follow, particularly at the beginning. There are no quotation marks for the dialogue and the narration jumps around not only between characters but between time periods: from the ‘present’ of Locke in 1928, to earlier periods in both China and California. That being said, I felt that the ending really brought all of the disparate pieces of the story together for an absolutely fantastic finish. The last 30 pages or so had me completely in their grip.
Whether or not you will enjoy this book probably depends on how much tolerance you have for a story with shifting view points and time periods (and no quotation marks!) and how much a great ending can redeem a complicated read for you.