Laura C.'s Reviews > The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream

The Snakehead by Patrick Radden Keefe
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's review
Mar 29, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in March, 2011

This book, by Patric Keefe, is the meticulously researched and documented story of human smuggling into the United States from China. Keefe tells the story dispassionately, from the middle, when a boat full of Chinese refugees goes purposely aground off of Rockaway New York on June 6, 1993. He takes us both forward and backward from there, showing us the complexities of the immigration story from both sides of the table, both politically and culturally. It is a fine feat to let the story do the teaching, and Mr Keefe has done this. I was particularly struck by the cultural disconnect that makes a snakehead (slang for a person who organizes the journey) a saint to the Chinese community, and a felon to U. S. authorities. For instance, Americans see each life as precious, and our criminal justice system is based on the ideal of justice for the individual. The Chinese philosophical viewpoint is one of acceptable risk. There are just so many people, and some may die, but for the lucky ones, a better life may be won by taking the terrible gamble. The book offers no solutions. No matter which side of the argument you are on, remember this: you can never destroy humankinds' dream of a better life, and only a fool discounts culture.

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