cover image Straw Dogs of the Universe

Straw Dogs of the Universe

Ye Chun. Catapult, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-1-64622-062-5

Ye (the collection Hao) offers a heartbreaking story of anti-Chinese racism in 19th-century California. Amid a famine in 1876 China, 10-year-old Siaxing’s mother sells her to human traffickers who will take her to the U.S., where her father, Guifeng, immigrated to before she was born. In San Francisco, she’s forced to work as a nanny for a wealthy Chinese family, then rescued by members of a Christian ministry. She becomes a housekeeper for a white family and befriends a neighboring Chinese boy. Just when things seem to be looking up, the two are attacked by a racist mob, including a member of the family that employs her. A parallel narrative follows Guifeng’s own hardships and attempts to build a life. After helping a woman named Feiyan escape from sex slavery, he settles with her and their child in Truckee, Calif.’s bustling Chinatown. After he’s shot in the leg during a scuffle at a lumber camp, Guifeng’s leg is amputated and he subsequently falls into opium addiction. When Siaxing finally finds Guifeng in 1882, rising Sinophobia has become an existential threat for the region’s Chinese community. Ye’s clear-eyed depictions of the characters’ internal struggles elevates what could be a litany of tragedies into a heroic story of survival. Readers will be moved. Agent: Caroline Eisenmann, Frances Goldin Literary. (Oct.)