cover image Four Treasures of the Sky

Four Treasures of the Sky

Jenny Tinghui Zhang. Flatiron, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-81178-3

Zhang delves into the history of violence and prejudice against Chinese people in the U.S. with her debut, a lyrical and sweeping Bildungsroman. The narrator, Daiyu, is inspired by the tragic character at the center of Cao Xueqin’s 18th-century novel Dream of the Red Chamber, whose irascible trickster ghost inhabits Daiyu. In the 1880s, Daiyu’s mother and father suddenly disappear from their home in China. Daiyu finds refuge in a calligraphy school, disguised as a boy, but is nevertheless smuggled to a brothel in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Narrowly escaping, thanks to the ghost’s fearlessness, she reaches the mining town of Pierce, Idaho, and is hired by Nam and Lum, the Chinese owners of a general store. After a violent white mob threatens them, handsome violin teacher Nelson Wong stands with them and helps rescue a wounded Nam, and Daiyu secretly falls in love with him. Her story of self-discovery is interrupted after the white proprietor of a competing store is found murdered and Daiyu and the others are arrested, then abducted by vigilantes. The author skillfully delineates the many characters and offers fascinating details on Chinese calligraphy and literature, along with an unsparing view of white supremacy. The result is fierce and moving. Agent: Stephanie Delman, Trellis Literary. (Apr.)