Questions of identity and belonging in a terrific new novel

The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies

What makes someone an American? Is it the way they look? Where they were born? Where their parents are from? It's a loaded question that's especially poignant considering the current political climate—and it's the theme at the center of Peter Ho Davies's fantastic new novel, The Fortunes.

In four novella-like sections, Ho Davies examines the Chinese-American experience. The first takes place in the 19th century and concerns Ah Ling, the son of a Chinese prostitute mother and absentee European father, working in California for a railroad magnate. The second is set in the 1930s and imagines the real-life film star Anna May Wong going to China for the first time. The third is also based on actual events—this time the murder of a Chinese-American man mistaken as Japanese in the 1980s. And the final section sees a present-day Chinese-American writer and his Caucasian wife traveling to China to adopt a baby.

On the surface, these stories have little in common, but Ho Davies argues that regardless of time or station in life, Chinese-Americans face many of the same struggles as they always have, specifically where identity and stinging racism are concerned.

Ho Davies's characters are deeply sympathetic, and as a reader you so desperately want them to feel like they belong. Enthralling and thought-provoking, The Fortunes is exactly the type of book you want to ease your way back into serious fall reading.

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