Friday, September 13, 2013

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

Songs of Willow Frost, the follow-up novel to Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, finds author Jamie Ford tackling topics such as racism, commitment, family, and forgiveness in the backdrop of 1930’s Seattle.  
            William Eng is an orphan living at the Sacred Heart Orphanage.  While the children are treated relatively well, it is every child’s dream to be reunited with his parents.  Having only vague memories of his mother, William spends his days with his friends Sunny, a Native American boy, and Charlotte, a girl blinded by a medical mistake.  While punishment methods and the food at Sacred Heart are a bit Oliver-Twist like, the alternative of living on the street with the legions of the Depression-era unemployed is hardly an alternative.  So, William fantasizes about finding his mother and about being able to escape the orphanage.
            One day, on an outing to a movie theater, William sees a movie with an actress named Liu Song, and he becomes convinced that she is his mother.  He expends a great deal of effort to find her and to determine why she would give him away.  Liu, renamed Willow, recounts her heartbreaking story to William in a series of conversations that detail her path from favored daughter to pariah.
            Through flashbacks to her early adulthood, Willow is able to explain to William the events that led him to be placed at the orphanage.  Her story highlights the effects of traditional Chinese culture upon her life, despite her being raised in America.  Trapped between a culture that often leaves women at the mercy of men and perceptions of Chinese in America, Willow is forced to make choices that break her heart, leave her penniless, and ultimately lead her to lose the little boy she loves the most.
            Songs of Willow Frost is a picture into a little known world of the Seattle moviemaking and Chinese communities.  I found the details of this world fascinating and ultimately depressing.  While I could not help but root for William and empathize with Willow, I found that the setting of this novel overwhelmed its characters.  Though both main characters were well-written and vibrant, I could never escape the knowledge that ultimately, they were trapped in their environments, despite any efforts to excape.  An argument can be made that they were able to excape at the end of the novel, but I was not convinced that these characters were able to transcend their fates.  
            I also found the book have a bit too much exposition rather than dialogue.  That led to some slowing down of the plot.  In addition, some parts were rather repetitive and slogging.  I felt as though there was some “magic” missing from the story.  I wanted this story to be told, and I wanted to read about these characters, but I wanted the story to move a bit faster.
            Songs of Willow Frost is a trip into a little known world with characters that you will care about.  Recommended for those who like historical fiction and people interested in a new view of Depression era life.


*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Regina

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The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, "Why?" and sometimes he thought, "Wherefore?" and sometimes he thought, "Inasmuch as which?" and sometimes he didn't quite know what he was thinking about.

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