There was a time when people of mixed race were thought of as freaks or misfits and treated as such. In Love and Other Consolation Prizes, a young Chinese-American boy is sold by his mother, herself a prostitute, in order to provide him with a better life. This was during the time of famine in China. When Yung Kun-ai (later known as Ernest Young) boards a freighter bound for the United States he is looking forward to a better life. But that isn’t what’s to be. He barely escapes with his life from the freighter and washes ashore in Seattle where he is taken to a shelter. After bouncing from place to place. He finally lands at a boys school where he is beholden to Mrs. Irvine, his benefactress. But when he becomes a bit rebellious she takes him to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, treats him to a day at the fair, before providing him as the prize in the daily raffle. That’s right, he’s raffled off and won by Madame Flora, owner of a house called the Tenderloin in the red-light district. There Ernest meets two young girls, Maisie and Fahn (a Japanese girl who was on the boat with him years earlier). The three form an unbreakable bond that will last until their elder years. Ernest ends up married to one of the girls when the Tenderloin closes but the reader doesn’t learn who he chose until almost the end of the book.
I loved this story! The juxtaposition of the AYP Exposition in 1910 with the Seattle World’s Fair of 1962 provides a wonderful backdrop to the story. The author weaves Ernest’s childhood with his later years in a spellbinding story. The characters are colorful, rich, and full of life. Exquisite details of the times and places pull the reader into the story and take him/her on a journey of depth and intrigue. The end is a beautiful twist to the story that this reader did not see coming. I found it difficult to choose a favorite character from the lot but I believe my heart belongs to Fahn in the end. You’ll have to read this for yourself to find out if you agree with my choice.
The question that permeates the story is: Are you still going to marry me?
Rating: 5 stars