Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown

Lauren Hilgers. Crown, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-451-49613-3
A battle for freedom segues into a struggle for survival in this clear-eyed, humane look at modern immigration. Journalist Hilgers, who lived in Shanghai for six years, spotlights the journey of Zhuang Liehong, who made powerful enemies in the Chinese village of Wukan when he organized protests against corrupt officials. Fearing arrest and dazzled by visions of American freedom and abundance, he and his wife Little Yan left their infant son in 2014 and fled on a tourist visa, ending up in the Chinese immigrant neighborhood of Flushing in New York City. Zhuang and Yan eventually get asylum and working documents, and their scramble for overpriced, overcrowded rooms and low-wage employment (in nail salons, restaurants, and the like) mirrors the experiences of many in New York. Instead of trying to make this an immigration horror story, Hilgers foregrounds the way the husband and wife adjust to their new home: Yan, pragmatically focused on mundane jobs and financial security, grows increasingly exasperated with the dreamer Zhuang’s fizzled business plans and his sense that political activism marks him for greater things. Hilgers’s narrative intercuts between the dramatic rebellion in Wukan and a vibrant portrait of Flushing’s Chinese diaspora built around fine-grained character studies drawn with equal parts empathy and humor. The result is a quintessentially American story of exile and renewal. Agent: Elyse Cheney, Elyse Cheney Literary Associates. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/08/2018
Release date: 03/20/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-451-49614-0
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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