I was so, so about this book until literally the last three pages. Don’t read them. Skip the Epilogue, it’ll just ruin the previous 300 pages. Why am I so angry about 3 pages? Because the rest of this book was so freaking good and so absolutely timely and necessary, that to be so stupendously let down in 3 short pages just felt wrong. Where was the editor on that one?
But I digress, A River of Stars follows Scarlett Chen as she finds herself an unwilling immigrant on a visitors’ visa to California. Scarlett falls for her married boss and when she finds out she’s pregnant and that she’ll be having a boy, Boss Yeung sends her to a secret home for pregnant Chinese women in Los Angeles, where she will (allegedly) have much better care as an unwed mother, and their son can be born an American citizen. In reality, Perfume Bay maternity house is a barely floating ship of a business run by the unscrupulous Mama Fang. Scarlett is a prisoner in both her own body and her situation. Her expenses are all paid by Boss Yueng, and her own money, passport, and immigration paperwork are held by Mama Fang. When Mama Fang proposes she give up her son to Boss Yueng in exchange for several thousand dollars and a green card, she realizes she’s been used and steals the house van to escape. On her trek through the long Californian roads, she realizes a teenage mother from the house named Daisy has stowed away to escape as well. Together, they make their way to Chinatown, San Francisco, where with the help of several of the neighbors they meet in their tiny apartment in Evergreen Gardens, they eek out survival with their infants. Meanwhile, Boss Yueng follows Scarlett to the U.S. in search of his baby boy, while his life becomes shambles under his nose.
Hua is an amazing writer; her prose is tight and glorious and packed with so much emotion. She deftly handles several characters’ points-of-view, giving the book a well-rounded feel and we find that no one here is the enemy. There are only people with difficult histories and tragic stories trying to eek out an existence in a tough world. Scarlett and Daisy’s desperation is a palpable and driving force through this story as we watch them teeter on the brink of both financial and personal destruction due to a system and a culture that is against them. Hua takes us to China and shows us the cold, hard truth of existence in the factories, the fields, and forced abortion clinics. One of the most moving things about the story is her ability to show the culture in a way that is both normal to Scarlett and understandable to western readers. I blew through this story in two days, riveted and excited until I got the epilogue where Hua gets tired and tries to wrap it all up with a nice little bow.
I didn’t want the bow. I wanted loose ends indicative of the reality this book so encapsulated until those last three pages. So read this book, it is worth it, but if you’re swept away by the harsh beauty of survival and reality, just do yourself the favor of skipping the epilogue.
Bingo Square: So Shiny!