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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Shawna Yang Ryan was a Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan, and in 2006, she received the Maurice Prize for Fiction.
Laural Merlington has recorded well over one hundred audiobooks and has received several AudioFile Earphones Awards, including one for Never Say Die by Susan Jacoby.
Table of Contents
NOTES ON RESEARCH
About the Author
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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.
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.
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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.
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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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