Water Ghosts
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Water Ghosts

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3.31 of 5 stars 3.31  ·  rating details  ·  222 ratings  ·  74 reviews
A mesmerizing debut novel that weaves history and mythology around a community of Chinese immigrants and the ghosts that haunt them

Locke, California, 1928. Three bedraggled Chinese women appear out of the mist in a small Chinese farming town on the Sacramento River. Two are unknown to its residents, while the third is the long-lost wife of Richard Fong, the handsome mana...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published July 27th 2010 by Penguin Books (first published April 1st 2008)
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Bethany C
I'm still not exactly sure how I feel about this book. When I first started it, the writing style seemed very strange. Present tense, and no quotation marks when people were clearly speaking, almost like one long run-on sentence. But I actually got used to it surprisingly quickly, and helped the book flow so that I seemed to read it faster. Then I was slightly put off and confused by jumping back and forth between years, but after a few times it fit the story as memories shaped the characters. H...more
Gus
Let me be the first to say: fucking gorgeous.
Rob
I feel bad because I know Shawna and my 4 star review seems to have brought her average down. So let me clarify what I mean by 4 stars.

I think this is an excellent book. It does a fantastic job of touching on interpersonal relationships within a specific historical context and invoking emotional responses to spiritual/fantasy possibilities. I would recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone. It is not my type of writing, along the lines that Toni Morrison is not my type of writer. Which is to...more
Maryan Heffernan
Shawna Yang Ryan’s beautifully written and evocative debut is splendid and I am looking forward to her continued career.

Water Ghosts is an exquisitely crafted insight into a Californian community of Chinese immigrants in 1928. Three spectral women emerge on a dilapidated boat out of a mist on the Sacramento River, one the wife of Richard Fong, manager of a local gambling saloon and two who are not known but their presence casts a strange shadow over this male dominated Chinese community.

The app...more
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

One of the biggest pleasures of running this website is the chance to discover new books recommended to me by other writers I admire; take for example California author Jason Riley, who earlier this year sent along to me the novel Water Ghosts by his buddy acquaintance Shawna Yang Ryan, under the belief t...more
Courtney
"I'd give my breath to you." A beautiful line from an absolutely beautiful book.

Water Ghosts is the story of Locke, California, 1928, when three Chinese women appear on the river out of the fog and disrupt the town. Who are these women? Where have they come from? Why have they come? These women become entwined with the lives of the townspeople as the story unfolds. It is a story of love, passion, ambition, and betrayal that feels almost dream-like.

I appreciate the style in which the book was wr...more
Kathleen
I really hate to give this book only three stars because it is truly beautifully written. I love the haunting mood of the novel and the use of Chinese mythology and stories. However, I have to add into my rating how enjoyable I found it to read. I tend to love novels that give me characters that I come to care about or at least find fascinating and this novel really didn't provide that. The story was also very hard for me to get into which would have been ok if in the end I felt it had a large i...more
Carrie
I had to read this book for a class on the American Gothic, and I am so glad I did. This is truly an amazing work, unlike anything I've read before. Stylistically it is as jarring as the three boat women -- there are no quotation marks, leading to a lyrical sort of reading with multiple interpretations. The mixing of cultures and traditions leads to a unique setting during a difficult time in American history.
Amanda J
Aug 22, 2010 Amanda J rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of Toni Morrison or Lisa See
Recommended to Amanda J by: goodreads giveaway
Mystical elements are combined with the historical setting of Locke, California in the 1920s - a chinese settlement near San Fransisco. Yang Ryan presents a wide cast of flawed characters, each with their own selfish ambitions and desires. While at times both lyrical and haunting, this novel moves slowly through its forced prose.
Olivia
An interesting and well-written book, if a bit explicit. The writing style is intersting. The author doesn't use quotation marks, which was weird at first, but gave the story almost a dream-like quality. The story switches between different charcters often. It was a quick read.
Bethany C
I'm still not exactly sure how I feel about this book. When I first started it, the writing style seemed very strange. Present tense, and no quotation marks when people were clearly speaking, almost like one long run-on sentence. But I actually got used to it surprisingly quickly, and helped the book flow so that I seemed to read it faster. Then I was slightly put off and confused by jumping back and forth between years, but after a few times it fit the story as memories shaped the characters. H...more
Noah
There might be a conflict of interests in me reviewing this book, as the author is my (awesome) former professor. But regardless of the possibility that my opinion was colored by me knowing her, I stand by my opinion that this book is awesome, and easily the best fiction I've read all year.

The plot summary reads like a Chinese-American version of Beloved (and although this book really is its own thing, I draw the comparison because she quotes Toni Morrison’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech): the y...more
Deb Atwood

With Ghost Month starting this week, this is the perfect time to take a look at Water Ghosts. This book was originally published under the title Locke 1928, and until I neared the end of the book, I would have said Locke 1928 was a better title than Water Ghosts. This is one of those novels in which the town becomes a kind of character, similar to Empire Falls by Richard Russo. And indeed, author Ryan paints the town with sensory-rich detail. I visited the tiny delta hamlet of Locke, CA, still e...more
Jill Paulson
The story is intriguing, no doubt, and while there several things that I really liked about this book, there were a few things that I mildly disliked as well.

Let's start with what I liked.

First of all, the prose is SO beautiful...often quite poetic which was a feast for my imagination. The scenes and characters really came to life as I was reading.

I have always been a fan of cultural and historical novels and this one fits both. There is a very strong infusion of the Chinese culture even though...more
Christina
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Suze
For beautiful writing, this book deserves a couple more stars. The story, however, just wasn't very interesting. It didn't really go anywhere and moved slowly getting there. I cared about only one of the characters, and even then not very much. That I made it through the book at all is testament to how lovely the writing was, but sans a decent story line, that wasn't enough to make this a good read.
Andrea Allison
This is the first book I've won in a giveaway on Goodreads. The storyline sounded intriguing and couldn't wait to start reading it. After finishing Water Ghosts, my excitement level wasn't so high.

I don't know much about Chinese culture for which I'm unable to comment on, but I found myself liking the story for the most part. I think the style of writing the author chose really throws readers for a loop, or at least it did me. I'm use to reading books where quotation marks identifies dialogue. T...more
Eileen Souza
So disappointing - this book has received rave reviews, and received nothing but 5 stars on Amazon. Even good reads has it at 4.57 stars, but it's completely unreadable.

The major flaw here is the fact that there are no quotations around what people are saying - and there's a lot of saying one thing and thinking another.

There are too many characters, and the story is told from each person's ownperspective, but again, I can't follow the thoughts and words because there's no differentiation - and...more
Marty
A very poignant tale of a small California town where most of the population are Chinese and men overwhelmingly outnumber the women. The story revolves around the present and past experiences of a half-dozen characters, including a manager at the gambling hall, his wife who has traveled from China to reunite with him, his former lover who is the madame of the local brothel, Chloe, a Anglo prostitute and her friend, Sofie who is the daughter of the local baptist preacher and his white wife. The n...more
Janine
I love reading books that take place in towns that I live somewhat close to. I am an Asian American Studies kid so this book was right up my alley. After reading it I went online and looked up everything I could on Locke, California. Shawna's depiction seems pretty accurate and well researched. My favorite character was Poppy See the brothel madam who pretty much can sense your whole life story and your future does by touching or smelling or tasting or any kind of "sensing" of something of yours...more
Amanda Seats
Aug 23, 2010 Amanda Seats rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Historical fiction lovers.
Shelves: reviewed
This was an interesting read. It was my first Goodreads Giveaway win, so thanks to Goodreads and the ones that opened the contest!

This was a quick, light read, but it was a little difficult to follow. There aren't any quotation marks used when people speak, so it's hard to decide what's spoken word and what is thought. The time-line also jumps around a bit, but eventually, the storyline of the characters unfold and the ending was pretty good.

To be honest, the ending was probably the best part....more
Arlith
I won this in a Goodreads giveaway...

First off, the book is very lovely. There's a lot of really great imagery. I did find it distracting that there weren't any quotation marks used. About a third of the way into the book, I got used to it and it added a dreamlike quality to it.

Smells and scents were mentioned and described quite frequently that, and the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab addict in me was absolutely delighted by it. Then when it was Hungry Ghost Moon in the book, I was thrilled.

Without...more
Elizabeth Kennedy
This is a wonderful book full of belief, mystery and superstition. The three wind together like a swollen river that here and there releases a secret. The lack of quotation marks in the narrative lends itself to the dream like quality of the writing and that surreal style softens the harshness of the situations described. The sorrows are real, and the things that must be endured are real, but the three women who suddenly appear may be real or they may be ghosts. I love the weaving together of th...more
Florence Primrose
I wanted to like this book about a Chinese immigrant community, Locke, in California in 1928. It was short but very disjointed bouncing from 1912 to1928 and back to the 1860s before returning to the 1920s. Very confusing.

Richard Fong Is a successful businessman who frequents the brothel. When he first arrived Poppy was his favorite, but now it is the much-younger Chloe. But then out of the fog in the river come three unknown women, one of which is the wife he left in China ten years before. The...more
Carol Bayley
The first chapter was seductive. Ryan's descriptions are original and captivating throughout the short novel.

Her ability as a story teller fell short for someone who appreciates a good plot. Pages 100-200 we filled with short chapters which bounced back and forth in time and amongst characters. In a few chapters Ryan did not use names, only pronouns, and try as I might I couldn't figure out who she was talking about.

The last 50 pages were much better - more action and interaction with the charac...more
Jennifer Kim
A total waste of time. I don't think I got what the books is supposed to be all about. Too confusing with the chapters going back and forth into different time period WITHOUT letting the reader know that is what's happening. Also, I couldn't connect with a single character. At the end of the book, when the levee broke, I was hoping it would sweep through the whole town and leave it barren so that another set of more interesting people would settle there.

I kept reading, hoping for it to turn and...more
Kasa Cotugno
I wanted to like this book better than I did. The premise seemed intriguing, but the execution was clumsy, the style pretentious. As another reviewer pointed out, I was hoping for more entree and got side dish. There aren't many books out there about the Sacramento River delta towns and the hard lives of their Chinese settlers, and the characters do not have enough breath in their lungs. The descriptions to carry quite a bit of sensual detail, giving a 3 dimensional quality to the4 story, but it...more
Vanessa
This is a beautiful concept of a book and as for the lack of dialogue punctuation, it actually works for me in that it gets the reader to have that sense of disconnect and confusion that plagues so many of the characters in this novel. Whether it is due to gender, culture,sexual persuasion, or obligations, the characters all struggle with something in their lives and how to escape from it or make it better. The use of the Chinese concept of ghosts also adds to the unique approach of this novel....more
Megan
There was certainly some very poetic phrasing in this novel, but I found that I just couldn't connect to any of the characters. Sometimes I choose a book because I am unfamiliar with parts of the subject matter and am willing to read the book with the possibility of learning more about it, such was the case with this book about a 1920s Californian town mostly populated by Chinese immigrants. I mean, am I supposed to feel like I ghosted through this book, because I definitely feel that way.
Amanda
I really enjoyed this book! I didn't expect to, because I did get it for a dollar and the last few Borders $1 books have been awful to mediocre at best. This multi-ethnic cast and intriguing concept are enough to keep you hooked even through the slightly anti-climactic and unsurprising ending. It ended a little too abruptly for my taste, and I feel like the author didn't know how to end it, but it is definitely one of the better books I've read recently.
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