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Poker Bride, The

3.02 of 5 stars 3.02  ·  rating details  ·  185 ratings  ·  66 reviews
When Gold Rush fever gripped the globe in 1849, thousands of Chinese came through San Francisco to seek fortune. In The Poker Bride, Christopher Corbett uses a legend of one extraordinary woman as a lens into this experience. Before 1849, the Chinese in the United States were little more than curiosities. But as word spread of gold in California, San Francisco's labyrinthi ...more
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Published February 3rd 2010 by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. (first published February 1st 2010)
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Aug 15, 2010 Angela rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Angela by: nytimes review
Corbett couldn't decide whether he wanted to write about Polly Bemis, the fabled Chinese bride won in a poker game, or tell the story of the brief wave of Chinese immigration to the West before political sentiment and discriminatory laws made the Chinese settlers disappear as quickly as they had come to the US territories. He can't even seem to make up his mind in the title, and the book winds on trying to intertwine these two stories, despite Polly's life not having much to do with the experien ...more
Randall Decker
Although this book had a lot of great historical facts about the Chinese in America during the 1800's and beginning of the 1900's, I wanted to read more about Poly Bemus, the poker bride. It talks of the sad plight of the Chinese in America who were often treated worse than slaves, but had the fortitude to persevere and make something of there lives in the hostile environment of the wild west. I would have given this more stars had it been portrayed as a historical piece rather than the story of ...more
May 30, 2011 Cheryl rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: review-gr
Misleading title and description since very little of this story is actually about Polly Bemis and occasional references to her often were supposition and conjecture rather than proven fact. Instead of being about the individual on the cover, this book is basically a boring and verbose account of the treatment of Chinese, especially women, during the gold rush.

When I slogged my way page by tedious page, I reached the point where the author labels other versions of Polly's life as 'bowdlerization
To be perfectly honest, I didn't finish this book. It wasn't at all what I expected. I wanted to read the story of Polly Bemis's life in detail, which is not the direction this book took. Rather it's a historical overview of the Chinese experience in America, which I was already familiar with from the Asian-American studies courses I took for my undergrad. I never would have started reading if I had known the true focus of the book was decidedly NOT Polly. I guess they had to market it somehow. ...more
This book was an interesting history of the Chinese in Idaho. It rambled quite a bit and it wasn't wasn't well researched. Most of the time we are told that there was little information on the first Chinese in the West, but that didn't stop Corbett from conjecturing, which wouldn't be bad, if it was coherent. I just finished 'The Woman Who Would Be King' about Hatshepsut, a woman we know little of, but Kara Cooney was able to bring Hatshepsut alive with her ability to draw conclusions based on w ...more
My current obsession-- books about historical events that I never learned about in school. Corbett uses the story of Polly Bemis, who was sold into sexual slavery as a young girl, as a thread uniting his narrative of Chinese people in the west during the time of the Gold Rush.
Dawn Trlak-Donahue
The concept was interesting, but the story only mentioned the poker bride in passing. The story of the Chinese immigrants could have been good, but the author apparently did not have enough material to fill a book, as it was repetitive...and boring.
Readers should be aware that the title of this book is fairly misleading. I get the feeling that there isn't much information on Polly Bemis, (not surprising considering her circumstances and the time she lived in), and the author used what little was available as a jumping off point for a look into Chinese immigration around the gold rush era.

The actual book is fascinating: who were these people, why did they travel so far, how did they arrive, what were their lives like when they got here. Th
Started off interesting, but then became repetitious and rather dull. There are better Chinese history books out there.
Gail Cooke

History is vivified when seen through the eyes of an individual, thus it is with Christopher Corbett's story of Polly Bemis, a Chinese concubine sold by her starving parents IN 1872 then smuggled to San Francisco. Next, she was brought by her owner to an Idaho mining camp where he lost her to Charlie Bemis in a poker game.

She lived with Charlie for almost half a century on an isolated ranch in the canyon of the Salmon River, "known as the `River Of No Return." She nursed him back to health after
Pamela Pickering
As this is a book club read and we have yet to have our meeting I am hiding my review with the spoiler function.

(view spoiler)
Much as in his previous book, Orphans Preferred, Christopher Corbett's true material isn't the particular parts of history that the books are ostensibly about, but the very act of story-telling. The Poker Bride is a fascinating account of a Chinese girl who may or may not have been won in a poker game in Gold Rush-era Idaho back country, and the larger nearly-lost history of the transient Chinese immigrants who helped build the American west. But above that, it's a story of how history gets lost ...more
Very insightful! Corbett used Bemis's life as a narrative for important events in the west. Highlighting important events like the small pox epidemic, formation of justice systems and political systems that affected the Chinese directly (and the rest of the population). The research was very solid, I'd totally recommend this to anyone who has interest in the American West during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The title of this book is just a bit misleading. though the last couple chapters touches on the life of Polly Bemis---a Chinese woman brought to the United States during the gold rush years---the focus of the book is primarily that of the experiences of the Chinese in the western US during the late 1800's and early 1900's. There was some good and interesting history there and well worth reading. But again, if you're looking for a ful account of the life of the title character, it's just not here ...more
A fascinating set of parallel stories rarely considered- that of the Chinese miners and laborers in the West during the various Gold Rushes, and the sad case of the Chinese women who unwillingly "served" their baser desires.

The true Poker Bride is one Polly Bemis, sold into sex slavery by her parents in southeast China, who escapes a certain death from violence or disease when won from her owner in a poker game in a dreary mining boomtown in Idaho. Bemis lives to a ripe old age as a semi-hermit
The book is well researched but has almost no narrative thread holding it together. The author tries, but it simply doesn't seem like there is enough of the Polly Bemis story to make a book out of it, instead, there are a lot of direct quotations of news clippings, but very little in the way of an interesting hook.
The sub-title is the apt description of this book. The Poker Bride herself is the vehicle used to recount the history of the Chinese in the west. The preponderance of the first Chinese were gold seekers. Though the book does not seem to address the probability that traders and businessmen were quite likely the first to spend any length of time in the West. It was through them that the miners came and who obtained jobs for the Chinese males. A short time later it was the 'businessmen' who brought ...more
Redundant. The title is very misleading. I was lead to believe I would be reading an account of Polly Bemise "The Poker Bride" but the only things that were told regarding her could have fit on one page. Very disappointing.
Astrid Yrigollen
This book is not such much about the "Poker Bride" to my dismay. It's a collection of material that the author put together from extensive research. Attempting to fit the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle, what we get is a look at the human slave trade industry.There are interesting pieces for people who live in San Francisco and makes you look at the some streets differently ( Jackson and Washington).If you are not familiar with early Chinese history in the U.S during the Gold Rush, this boo ...more
While this book gives one a good look at the life of the Chinese who immigrated to the American West during the gold Rush and soon after, I was expecting the book to be mainly about Polly Bemis, a Chinese immigrant who was allegedly won in a poker game and eventually married the man who won her. Her story is told but it is only the final third of the book that focuses on that. There is really too little documented about her life to fill a book so first 2/3 of the book dwells on the plight of tho ...more
Though a little dry in places, The Poker Bride frames the general story of the Chinese in the 19th Century American west with that of Idaho's own Polly Bemis. Her story, Corbett explains, is mostly apocryphal, but still intriguing. While it looks like Corbett did a nice job of rounding up resources, I have to say I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more. He describes how and why the Chinese came to America, and shows what life was like in San Francisco's Chinatown and in the Idaho mini ...more
The author does a good job incorporating the details of Polly's life - what is known - into the story of the Chinese in the West. He tells the stories worth hearing. The cover features a blurb from a review by Erik Larson and the writing is similar although maybe not quite as lively - a little more academic, at least until the last chapter which reads like it got a lot of care and feeding. My copy was from the library but I'm going to have to buy one for my "Idaho shelf" containing Wallace Stegn ...more
This was a little disappointing for me, as I was expecting the history of the Chinese in the West to be told through the personal story of Polly, the "Poker Bride". However there was very little about her or any woman's life. The historical background of the brutal conditions, violent prejudice and virtual slavery of the Chinese who came to America for the Gold Rush was well presented. I like my history with lots of day-to-detail, but this contained too much statistical data without enough indiv ...more
Bought this book while in San Francisco browsing shelves in City Lights. I recently finished watching the Deadwood series and was so pleased to find an unknown book that would fill my addiction to buying local authors or stories when traveling as well as adding to my desire to learn more about women during the gold rush. The book was fascinating as was Deadwood, and it showed how much very good research was done on that television series. A really good read.
If you know me, and maybe you do, you know that I am marginally obsessed with prostitution. Not in the "Pretty Woman" kind of way, but in the economies of the sex trade kind of way. So, this book intrigued me. It offered a relatively broad insight into the gold rush and the Chinese immigration it inspired. I like the journalistic style of the writing, and I like that the author is a fellow faculty member at my alma mater. Read it. You'll learn something.
A bit of bait-and-switch here - while the book does attempt to piece together the story of the Poker Bride, it is mostly a recap of the influx of gold rush Chinese miners and prostitutes, done in a fairly dry manner with much info directly lifted from his sources. If you want a real eye-opening look at this time, go directly to 'Barbary Coast' by the fabulous Herbert Asbury (Gangs of New York) and skip this piece of discount book store fodder.
Christopher Corbett
“Imagine "McCabe & Mrs. Miller," "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and "Deadwood" hand-stitched together and given a novel slant as a mini-epic of Chinese immigrant life. That suggests the polyglot vitality of Christopher Corbett's new nonfiction book, "The Poker Bride.
With "The Poker Bride," Corbett cements his claim as an ace surveyor of America's borderland of fable.”

Michael Sragow in The Baltimore Sun
There is a quote in the beginning of the book which sums it up :
"...because you will soon see, it is all truth and no story."

This is not a story, it is straight facts upon boring fact and should not be considered a historical fiction. It reads more like a college paper.

Very unhappy with this choice. If you are doing research on the topic it's the book for you. There is no drama, no personal touches..
Linda Mirvis
More general historical accounts than story of the one individual than I had expected. And a fair amount of redundancy. But well written and obviously well researched. The biggest surprise was finding myself listed in the acknowledgements as I had helped the author a little a few years back in my capacity as reference librarian at the university where he teaches. It is nice to be appreciated.
As the title says it is a look at the first Chinese in the west. In general it chronicles the Chinese who came to the west during the gold and silver rush's and the Chinese women, who were for all intents and purposes enslaved as prostitutes . In particular it tells the story of Polly Bemis and how she ended up in Idaho's back country and the legend of how she was won in a poker game.
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The Poker Bride 1 11 Feb 03, 2010 01:39PM  
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