Title: PAPER WIFE
Author: LAILA IBRAHIM
Genre: FICTION, HISTORICAL FICTION, DIVERSE FICTION, MULTICULTURAL FICTION, WOMEN’S FICTION
Length: 298 PAGES
Publisher: LAKE UNION PUBLISHING
Received From: NETGALLEY
Release Date: OCTOBER 30, 2018
Price: $14.95 USD
Rating: 4 OUT OF 5 STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐
From the bestselling author of Yellow Crocus comes a heart-wrenching story about finding strength in a new world.
Southern China, 1923. Desperate to secure her future, Mei Ling’s parents arrange a marriage to a widower in California. To enter the country, she must pretend to be her husband’s first wife—a paper wife.
On the perilous voyage, Mei Ling takes an orphan girl named Siew under her wing. Dreams of a better life in America give Mei Ling the strength to endure the treacherous journey and detainment on Angel Island. But when she finally reaches San Francisco, she’s met with a surprise. Her husband, Chinn Kai Li, is a houseboy, not the successful merchant he led her to believe.
Mei Ling is penniless, pregnant, and bound to a man she doesn’t know. Her fragile marriage is tested further when she discovers that Siew will likely be forced into prostitution. Desperate to rescue Siew, she must convince her husband that an orphan’s life is worth fighting for. Can Mei Ling find a way to make a real family—even if it’s built on a paper foundation?
With immigration currently being a hot button issue in the United States and many other countries around the world, the publication of this book could not be more timely.
Although this story begins ninety years ago in 1923, there are many alarming similarities between the discrimination faced by immigrants during that time period and the discrimination faced by those who have chosen to emigrate to the United States in modern times.
Mei Ling was happily living out her young life in China when the matchmaker arrived at the door of her parent’s home. A suitable match had been found for Mei Ling’s older sister and the wedding date was set. But, as fate would have it, her sister fell ill and her parents told Mei Ling that she would have to take her sister’s place.
This deception early in the story is only one of many deceptions and ‘white lies’ that occur throughout the book.
It is obvious that author Laila Ibrahim did her research for this book as the facts and traditions written about in this tale match perfectly with historic accounts from those who actually did leave China in hopes of a better life in the United States.
Laila Ibrahim’s writing style and subject matter reminds me of author Lisa See.
I enjoyed the story even though I found one event to be completely implausible. Despite that, the author has written a book that anyone who wonders what life might have been like for the huge wave of Asian immigrants who arrived en masse in the years following World War I will want to read.
I believe that by reading books such as PAPER WIFE, people will gain, at the very least, a small measure of empathy for people whose cultures and/or backgrounds are different from their own.
Reading stories like this one, prove to readers that people are more similar than they are different. We all want the same thing. We want a safe and comfortable place to sleep, a good education for our children, and a job that allows us to provide for our families.
In PAPER WIFE, Mei Ling was detained on Angel Island and interrogated by officials who used intimidation and threats to try to force her to change her story or to catch her in a lie. This is a true reflection of what immigrants were subjected to in 1925.
Chinese immigrants on Angel Island
Poetry carved into the walls at Angel Island
We need to learn from the past. If we do not learn from our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them.
I rate PAPER WIFE as 4 OUT OF 5 STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Laila Ibrahim grew up in Whittier, California on the eastern edge of Los Angeles County, and moved to Oakland, California to attend Mills College where she studied Psychology and Child Development. After getting a Master’s Degree in Human Development, she realized she wanted to do more hands on work with children, and opened up her own preschool: Woolsey Children’s School.
Her education and experiences as an educator and parent provide ample for her writing – especially her study of Attachment Theory and multiculturalism.
She identifies as a devout Unitarian Universalist – which is sort of like being a radical moderate – and worked as the Director of Children and Family Ministries at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland for five years.
She lives in a small co-housing community in Berkeley with her wife, Rinda, a public school administrator. She the proud mother of two wonderful young adult daughters and the not-so-proud mother of a rambunctious mini-Aussies.
Laila self-published Yellow Crocus in 2011 after agents repeatedly told her that no one would want to read a story about the love between an enslaved black woman and her privileged white charge. Over the years the readers have proven them wrong. She became a full-time writer in 2015.
Living Right, her second novel, is set in 2004, but with a similar theme: loving across difference. It goes beyond the headline to reveal the life and death stakes when a devoted mother struggles to reconcile her evangelical Christian beliefs with her son’s sexual orientation.
Mustard Seed continues with the lives of the Freedman and Johnson families after the Civil War.
Paper Wife tells the story of Mei Ling, a young woman forced by social upheaval to marry a stranger and immigrate from Southern China through Angel Island to San Francisco in 1923.
To read an interview with the author click HERE.
Laila loves calling or Skyping into bookclubs and public speaking. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about this author, visit the following links:
Photos obtained from the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation
OME OF THE POEMS LEFT BEHIND:
(Source: Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation)
Sitting alone in the customs office,
How could my heart not ache?
Had my family not been poor,
I would not have traveled far away from home.
It was my elder brother who urged me
To embark on a voyage to this shore.
The black devil* here is unjust-
He forces the Chinese to clean the floor.
Two meals a day are provided,
But I wonder, when will I be homeward bound?
– Lee from Toishan District, September 4, 1911
*A pejorative to refer to those of African descent-here, presumably, an African Canadian working at the immigration station directed the detainees to sweep the floors.
Hear Poem 4 Read in Toishanese.
My Wife’s Admonishment
We are poor, so you’re leaving home to seek wealth;
Keep hold of propriety while on this journey.
Never pick wildflowers along the road,*
For you have your own wife at home!
Before you depart, I admonish you a thousand times;
Don’t let my words just whistle past your ears.
Don’t worry about us, be diligent and frugal,
And two years hence return to sweep the ancestors’ tombs.
Your wife and children haven’t a thing to wear;
Not half a cup of rice can be scooped from the pot.
Our house and rooms are dilapidated;
Our housewares are worn, and the curtains torn.
In the past, you did nothing but gamble;
You never thought of me and my flowing tears.
You are fortunate your elder brother has paid the taxes-
Always remember your great debt to him!
– Lee from Toishan District, Arrived July 12, 1911
Footnotes: To engage in romantic/sexual affairs while away from home.