Shawna Yang Ryan Water Ghosts: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9781400111855

Water Ghosts: A Novel

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9781400111855: Water Ghosts: A Novel
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Locke, California, 1928. Three bedraggled Chinese women suddenly appear out of the mist one afternoon in a small Chinese farming town on the Sacramento River, and their arrival throws the community into confusion. Two of the women are unknown to the townspeople, while the third is the long-lost wife of Richard Fong, the handsome manager of the local gambling parlor, who had left her behind in China many years earlier and had not yet returned for her. Richard's wife's unexpected arrival complicates his life in no small way-not least with two prostitutes at the local brothel he frequents. One, the beautiful young Chloe, depends on him but has eyes for someone else, someone even more forbidden: the local preacher's daughter. The other, Poppy, the psychic madam of the brothel, is desperately in love with Richard, and she begins to sink into despair as he grows further and further away from her. As the lives of the townspeople become inextricably intertwined with the newly arrived women, Poppy's premonitions begin to foretell a deep unhappiness for all involved. And when a flood threatens the livelihood of the entire town, the frightening power of these mysterious women who arrived in the mist will be revealed.

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About the Author:

Shawna Yang Ryan was a Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan, and in 2006, she received the Maurice Prize for Fiction.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Table of Contents


Title Page

Copyright Page



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43




About the Author

Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014,
U.S.A. Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario,
Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand,
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England


Published in 2009 by The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.



Copyright © Shawna Yang Ryan, 2007

All rights reserved


Originally published under the title Locke 1928 by El Leon Literary Arts


Excerpt from The Nobel Acceptance Speech by Toni Morrison, Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.


Publisher’s Note
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.




Ryan, Shawna Yang, date.
Water ghosts : a novel / Shawna Yang Ryan.
p. cm.

eISBN : 978-1-101-01446-2

1. Chinese—California—Delta Region—Fiction. 2. Immigrants—California—Delta Region—
Fiction. 3. Locke (Calif.)—Fiction. 4. Delta Region (Calif.)—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3618.Y344L63 2009
813’.6—dc22 2008029400



Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.


The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrightable materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

For my parents, Mike and Ellen

Tell us what it is to be a woman so that we may know what it is to be a man. What moves at the margin. What it is to have no home in this place. To be set adrift from the one you knew. What it is to live at the edge of towns that cannot bear your company.


Nobel lecture, December 7, 1993



Richard Fong (aka Fong Man Gum), manager of the Lucky
Fortune Gambling Hall
Ming Wai, Richard’s wife, one of three boat-women
Poppy See (aka Po Pei), brothel madam, seer
Chloe Virginia Howell, a prostitute in Madam See’s brothel,
Richard Fong’s lover
Howar Lee, preacher
Corlissa Lee, wife of preacher Howar Lee
Sofia Lee, their only daughter, friend of Chloe’s
So Wai, boat-woman
Sai Fung, boat-woman




Alfred, Chloe’s former lover
Barrett, Chloe’s former admirer
Lee Bing, founder of Locke
Tuffy Leamon, speakeasy owner
Uncle Happy, farm laborer
Cholly Wong, ill-fated rescuer of boat-women
Manny Chow, gambler
Mrs. Chow, bootlegger, wife of Manny Chow
Lau Sing Yan, Richard Fong’s childhood friend and rival
Sarah, Poppy See’s fellow dancer, adulteress
The butcher, Sarah’s lover, murderer
Ruby Moore, New York jazz singer
David Howell, Chloe’s brother
Jack Yang, restaurant owner
Lucy Yang, Jack Yang’s wife


The Founding (1915)

HER MIND WAS taken with the thought of pussy willows. She saw them in the market, long cut stems emerging from a bucket of water, ten cents a bunch. Each fistful tied with string. Her eyes lingered over them as she stood in line with a can of condensed milk. She weighed the can in her hand as she thought about the willows—which vase she might use, which corner or tabletop they might decorate. She lived in a small apartment—kitchen crowding into dining area crowding into sitting space crowding into a room for a bed. That was all. The way the light fell, through thick glass windows onto tea-colored walls, would turn the brown branches gold.

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