Lost Daughter of Happiness
Lost Daughter of Happiness is a historical novel written in a film editor’s style, relating events and depicting the characters through a camera’s eye. Shifts of focus and interweaving of the modern with the period setting challenge the reader but flow in short film-like segments, creating natural pauses. The narrator has no more certainty of truth than the reader, only more knowledge, as she sifts through the written and photographic evidence of one Chinese woman’s appearances in late 19th century San Francisco.
The images are more important than the words used to draw them. “When Chris is listening to an Italian farmhand playing the violin, you are putting on earrings. Although you are looking at different things, your eyes meet.” The author, self-described as a Chinese immigrant of a later time period, speaks to Fusang, the Chinese prostitute, as if the book were a quest for meaning and validation in this ancestress’ life. Fusang has mystique that allows her to survive and even transcend the cruelties of her life. Her contemporaries think she is merely stupid. The love between her and a younger white Californian boy changes their lives and endures the annihilating effect of the cultural hatreds of the period. This is not an easy book to read, but it is full of cultural insight and vivid portraits.