The Wooden Fish Songs

Ruthanne Lum McCunn, Author Dutton Books $22.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-525-93927-6
McCunn's second novel (after Thousand Pieces of Gold) returns to a subject she treated in the nonfiction Chinese-American Portraits, as she again tells an affecting story of a lonely, dedicated life. This is a fictionalized biography (documented with well-researched details) of unsung immigrant horticulturist Lue Gim Gong, who died in 1925 after breeding superior Florida citruses. Lue's tale is recounted from the viewpoints of three 19th-century women: Sum Jui, his mother in Toishan, anxious for her son among America's ``foreign ghosts''; Fanny, the 40-ish fundamentalist spinster (and laudanum addict) in North Adams, Mass., who gives the teenaged Lue a home and a Christian education while falling in love with him; and Sheba, daughter of black slaves, who works with Lue in the citrus groves. The common theme is the appalling inhumanity endured by women, and sometimes by men, in all three cultures under the stress of cultural and religious notions. McCunn records Chinese infanticide, the sale and hard labor of children, the paralyzing dread of seeing a ``fox ghost''; relatives and rapacious landlords; New Englanders' Bible-toting fury and xenophobia against ``pagan'' Asians; Southern cruelty toward newly emancipated African Americans; and icy racial hostility against the Chinese. Her skillful balance of individual stories and social history makes a poignant statement about the waste of lives. The author's own lament emerges in her title, which refers to a genre of women's songs for the menfolk who sought their livelihoods in the ``Gold Mountain'' of America. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/01/1995
Release date: 05/01/1995
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-452-27346-7
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-8070-6229-6
Paperback - 385 pages - 978-0-295-98714-9
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