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The Celestials

3.15 of 5 stars 3.15  ·  rating details  ·  237 ratings  ·  51 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
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 11th 2013 by Tin House Books (first published April 22nd 2013)
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(showing 1-30 of 968)
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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
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
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
I loved the first half of this book. The descriptions of place were beautifully written, and the setup was fascinating both in terms of characters, and in how Shepard utilizes real historical information to ground her story. Since it takes place in North Adams, a town I know very well, it was especially fascinating to read. She lost me in the second half though, as the love story develops and then falls apart, and the story felt less and less believable.

~✡~Dαni(ela) ♥ ♂♂ love & 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
Laurie Hewett
Well worth reading. Precise, sensitive writing style. Historical fiction at its best
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
Yes, sadly I gave this a one star because it was so poorly written. I adore historical novels; historical fiction and the work that goes into them. I cut a lot of slack for "somewhat poorly written books" if they have merit of some sort which this book did not. I lived in New England much of my life. It is beautiful and its history is rich. What could have been a delightful historical novel/story was turned into the driest, dullest lecture that I've ever been party to. I hate to say this about a ...more
This is the story of a group of Chinese workers who were brought to North Adams, MA to replace striking workers. I purchased this book because my daughter is currently living in that area and I wanted to learn some of its history. However, the author failed to interest me much in the characters. I found it difficult to believe that Julia would be able to remain in North Adams, much less in her marriage, after her actions. Some of the chapters started with a recount of events that were happening ...more
Brigid Keely
"The Celestials," by Karen Shepard, is the fictionalized account of a very real historical event: the hiring by a East Coast factory owner of a large group of Chinese workers to break up a strike of white employees. Working within the actual events and lives of real people, Shepard provides a fairly solid narration of the unusual events... and does a pretty good job handling the racial tensions and issues of the time, which are different from the racial tensions and issues of our time.

I wanted t
I liked this book, but it just wasn't what I was expecting. I was hoping that it would explore the labor issues more than it did. It focused a lot on the relationships between the three main characters, and that made it feel more like fiction than the historical fiction that I was hoping for. There were historical facts thrown in at random, unrelated to the story. I think tthat they were put in to set the mood of the time, give a feeling for what was going on in the area at the time. They were i ...more
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.
In 1870 75 young Chinese men arrived in North Adams, Massachusetts, to work in a shoe factory. They had come to "Gold Mountain" (the U.S.) to earn money to send to their families in rural China. What they did not know was that they were hired as scab labor because the American (Yankee, Irish, French-Canadian) workers were on strike. A number of the women in town endeavored to teach the men English. When the factory owner's 44-year-old wife has a baby who appears half-Chinese the townspeople spec ...more
"Charlie knew what was required of him if he wanted to regain any of the ground slipping away. He must speak of the mixing of the races the way these peasant boys thought of it... he could not share that with these boys. So he continued to say nothing....Ah Chung took his hesitancy and held it up to him as more evidence of the foreman's misplaced loyalties. Charlie understood that he might be right. The vessel Charlie had been sailing since his arrival in this country, to carry him to a safe pla ...more
A very uneven but ultimately moving historical novel about a (to me) entirely unknown event of American history. In 1870, after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, hundreds of Chinese workers were transported eastward across the country to Massachusetts, to work as "scabs" in the factories. The first section of the novel, unfortunately, suffers from the "look at all the research I did" syndrome, reading more like an info-dump than a story. I despaired. But I hung in there, and the b ...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
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
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
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.
Could have been more satisfying. Never really got in to the characters - or perhaps I didn't like them b/c they were all so clueless. Didn't get much of a feel for the times either. I finished it but am not inclined to read anything else by this author.
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
Aug 31, 2014 Lisa added it
Excellent history lesson, slightly far fetched plot, uneven but generally good writing.
Just couldn't get interested
A perfect gem of historical fiction.
Beautifully written story.
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.
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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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