The Celestials
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The Celestials

3.16 of 5 stars 3.16  ·  rating details  ·  173 ratings  ·  38 reviews
In June of 1870, seventy-five Chinese laborers arrived in North Adams, Massachusetts, to work for Calvin Sampson, one of the biggest industrialists in that busy factory town. Except for the foreman, the Chinese didn't speak English. They didn't know they were strikebreakers. The eldest of them was twenty-two.

Combining historical and fictional elements, The Celestials beaut...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 11th 2013 by Tin House Books (first published April 22nd 2013)
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(showing 1-30 of 825)
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Rebecca Foster
(See my full review, and interview with Karen Shepard, at Bookkaholic.) A photographically precise image of small-town America shaken by the arrival of a group of outsiders. Shepard powerfully evokes a time when assimilation was nearly impossible but genuine traditions were also difficult to sustain. Readers may be reminded of The Light Between Oceans, Ann Hood’s The Red Thread, and perhaps even Alice Sebold’s Lucky when reading this beautiful, accomplished novel about ostracism and the search f...more
Comments based on advanced reader's copy. Evaluation is actually three and a half stars. This book strike me a the sort of book that would make a good "Ophra" book. There are excellent historical multicultural connections based on actual events in which Chinese laborers were used as a source of inexpensive labor/strike breakers in the late 19th century in shoe manufacturing in Western Massachusetts. A key contextual element of the story is the relation of the Chinese workers to the Caucasian pop...more
Laurie Hewett
Well worth reading. Precise, sensitive writing style. Historical fiction at its best
Tinky Weisblat
“The Celestials” is sometimes unclear about the motives of its characters—in part because they don’t always understand those motives themselves. It is never unclear about the power of love and forgiveness or the ways in which meeting someone from another culture can begin to liberate a person. And the subject matter is fascinating.
Weston High School Library
Sensitive, compelling historical fiction set in North Adams, MA right after the Civil War, when the shoe factories are at their height. Workers are striking for more pay and the shoe factory owner imports Chinese workers to work as scabs. The Chinese men are quickly adopted by the women in town who tutor and befriend them. When the wife of the shoe factory owner gives birth to a baby who is part Chinese, her family, the town, and the Chinese workers are all deeply affected.

This novel is about cl...more
Florence Primrose
In 1870 75 Chinese arrived in a small town in Massachusetts to be strike breakers at the shoe factory of Sampson. The men are accompanied by their foreman, Charlie Sing. Sampson's wife, Julia, had suffered many miscarriages. When the women of town decided to educate and help the Chinamen Julia became involved.

This historical fiction follows the struggles of a small community to accept and assimilate the Chinese as well as consideration for Julia Sampson who returns to town after an extended abse...more
Rob Jacklosky
Sensitive, thoughtful and very smart treatment of the Chinese immigrant laborers importation into the Massachusetts factory town of North Adams in the 19th Century. The quiet moments under the big conflicts are the best things about this excellent book. The factory owner and his wife work through their marital difficulties in a way that is both believable and surprising. The narrative is even-handed, showing sympathy to all parties.
Matt Miles
The Celestials provides a vivid and worthwhile glimpse into the time and place surrounding Calvin Sampson's Chinese Experiment and just some of the effect it had on the community in North Adams, Massachusetts in the late 19th century. The story is more about Sampson, his wife, a couple of members of the community and the foreman of the Chinese workers than about the events. I wish there was more of a glimpse into the lives of the titular characters, but even with that disappointment Charlie Sing...more
Celeste Ng
In a lot of ways this book really reminded me of THE KNOWN WORLD, by Edgar P. Jones, in the way it interwove (fictitious) personal lives with history, giving context to personal stories and imagining its way into a historical millieu. With that said, though, Jones has said he made up virtually everything in THE KNOWN WORLD, while Karen Shepard appears to have meticulously researched THE CELESTIALS.

I can see why some readers might find that the history slows down the novel, but for me, it added...more
I enjoyed the book, but thought it was as much history as novel. I particularly was interested as my Mom's home town, Adams, South Adams in the book, has had me in North Adams many times. I only learned about the Chinese presence about 15-20 years ago in an article in Yankee. As I moved through the book, I found myself wondering how many of the characters were 'fictitious,' based a real person, or truly real. I found the premise of Julia and Charlie having a relationship to be a little unbelieva...more
Megan Henrich
"People deserved to live the delights and burdens of their lives in private." (251)

This is the type of book where I found myself crinkling and bending pages and downright abusing the binding because my worry for these very real characters required externalization of some sort. At first I tried to read it slowly, and I accomplished that for the first 150 pages or so, but then read the remainder in an afternoon. Karen Shepard is a complete world builder, and she manages to work within the constrai...more
Veronica Sanche
I enjoyed this unique story about the entrance of young male Chinese workers in 1870 into a white shoe factory. Their acceptance and/or distrust by the community members was one of the major themes as well as some very unexpected twists and turns that occur.
It was okay. Didn't know anything about this history in North Adams. At times felt like it relied too much on primary resources and was just a recounting of facts. It was interesting to learn about the history though and imagine what it might have been like.
Really great writing, characters were well represented for the era they lived. Julia's character was both interesting and a little sad but overall such bravery for a woman. I admired all the women in this book, wished book was a little longer actually. Enjoyed this book.
Chris Wharton
Disappointing, after looking forward to a story of Chinese laborers imported from California to northwestern Massachusetts as strikebreakers at a shoe factory in the late 19th century. Good on cross-cultural and interpersonal aspects in the historical setting and also some delicate plot and character developments (especially last chapter), but some aspects of the writing really interfered with my enjoyment, e.g., too many historical factoids (vs historical fiction); annoyingly frequent use of a...more
Goddammit. What could have been amazing was shoddy and disjointed, at best. The true story of a group of 75 Chinese immigrants brought to a New England town to work as strike-breakers in 1875 sounds fascinating. But the writing was bad, just terribly bad. I couldn't figure out my big problem with the writing though; I think it was that the author used too many commas (which isn't normally a problem for me) but the halves of the sentences just didn't match up a lot of the time. Too many double ne...more
~~Dani ♥ semi-colons~~
Not even a summer day and a margarita could save this book. Meandering through late 19th century America, The Celestials doesn't know what it wants to be. There are long passages focused on immigrant labor (nothing new there) and unions; other passages that deal with the trajectory of a marriage, a childless one. I tried to keep an open mind but found my interest waning nonetheless. There's just so much telling here, so little dialogue, sparse character development. I'm not surprised Shepard had...more
Just couldn't get interested
Brian Goeselt
What an unexpected treat. Who knew that the Gilded Age western Massachusetts New England manufacturing town of North Adams had its little shoe factory world, and hearts, rocked by the arrival of 75 lovable Chinese scabs in 1870. I've never seen history and fiction merged so seamlessly. Where the limits of research are reached, Shepard reaches effortlessly into her novelistic bag of tricks to bring us the otherwise inaccessible inner lives of men and women long dead and gone.
A really great history book with a lecturing plot. Had to give up a hundred pages in.
This book was written by a college classmate of mine, so I was predisposed to like it. I think it was beautifully, hauntingly written, in the manner of the time period the story took place in. Because Shepard chose to write in something of a 19th century voice, adjusting took some initial patience on my part as the reader. In the end, this novel, its imagery and the evocative story told were well worth it.
Kate C
I tried to read it but it was so bland that I gave up about 100 pages in. Unfortunately the next book I chose (a flighty chick-lit) was even worse, so I came back to this one to give it another go. I was not invested in the characters. I didn't really care about the affair. I just didn't feel that the book lived up to what I wanted from it, which would have been more like Sinclair's 'The Jungle.'
Jan 13, 2014 Tokoro added it
Shelves: library, straddlers
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Diana Voelkel
Based on history, it's the story of a town and a shoe-manufacturing plant in the 1800s that brought in Chinese workers from California to replace striking American workers. The Celestials, as they were called, would work for a quarter of what the Americans were getting. The plan, though, had unintended consequences for the plant owner and his wife.
Kathleen Werber
Wonderful book - an interesting look at N. Adams, Ma in the 1870s when a group of young Chinese men came to town to work in a shoe factory. The author laid out the story in a very interesting way - lots of foreshadowing and a few surprises.
Her writing style was a bit old-fashioned but it worked well as the story was so engrossing. An excellent novel.
Read for my book group. This was interesting, but mostly because I know the place so well. Some strange pacing and lots of random insertions of historical facts. Also, the way the sentences et al were structured, I often found myself unsure who "he" was, and I'd have to go back half a page to figure it out.....
Although it's a novel, this book sometimes read like nonfiction and not just because it was meticulously researched - the author's style sometimes is very forthright.

Having gone to school in the Berkshires, I found the history of Chinese workers in New England fascinating and well worth the read.
Well-intentioned account of laborers from China brought to break a strike in the 19th century. Soapy and also strangely overstuffed with research and fact, as if in imitation of Dos Passos. Didn't really work for me.
Caroline Kim
I really wanted to like this book but it didn't even pique my interest until I was 43% in and by that time, I already could predict how the book was going to play out. Clearly, not the kind of book for me.
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Karen Shepard is a Chinese-American born and raised in New York City. She is the author of three novels, An Empire of Women, The Bad Boy's Wife, and, most recently, Don't I Know You? Her short fiction has been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Bomb, Failbetter, Glimmertrain, Mississippi Review, and Southwest Review, among others. Her nonfiction has appeared in Self, USA Today, and The Columbia Co...more
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