Poker Bride: The First Chinese in the Wild West

Christopher Corbett, Author
Christopher Corbett, Author . Atlantic Monthly $25 (218p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1909-4
Reviewed on: 11/16/2009
Release date: 02/01/2010
Paperback - 218 pages - 978-0-8021-4527-7
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This unruly book mixes a wonderful mystery- wrapped story with the larger picture of Chinese immigration into the American West. The central story concerns a young Chinese woman sold by her family in 1872 into indentured prostitution. She turns up as a concubine in Idaho, is said then to have been won by another man in a poker game, and became Polly Bemis, the winner's legal, beloved wife in the remote wilderness of Idaho. Polly emerged into public view only in 1923, a tiny old woman on horseback, her identity and story known only to a few old-timers. Corbett wisely sets Bemis's life into the context of Chinese immigration, gold- country anti-Chinese prejudice, and life in the mining communities and remote fastnesses of Idaho a hundred years ago. The trouble is that Corbett also gives us over and over again every tale about Bemis, many of them conflicting, many more incomplete, and many no doubt apocryphal, clogging the work and making it longer than necessary. We need more of former AP editor and novelist Corbett's (Vacationland ) own reflections, less of every one else's surmises and tales. (Feb.)

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