The Dragon’s Child by Laurence Yep

The Dragon's ChildActually, no matter the number of pages, it’s almost blasphemy to say that anything by Laurence Yep is a surprise.  I’ve always found his books to be thought provoking and enjoyable. I picked this book up because, one, as I said, I like Laurence Yep’s work and two, it’s about, in part, Angel Island, the counterpart of Ellis Island, but less well known and on the west coast, in San Francisco.

Dragon’s Child is more biographical than Yep’s usual fiction or folktales.  Jumping from one genre to another can be a dicey move to make.  However, I should never even have given it a thought.  The book is a delight.

As Yep says in the author’s note at the beginning, he had a chance to “step back into history” and learn about his father and his father’s family through not only stories but actual documents kept for many years in the National Archives.  This is a story of struggle and triumph in both the old country and the new.

Gim Lew Yep, Laurence Yep’s father, is ten-years old when the story begins.  The son of and brother of Guests—Chinese living in America and sending funds back to China—he is bound to travel with a father he barely knows to a land of unimaginable strangeness.  He will be dressed in western clothes, live in crammed quarters on an overcrowded ship and then when he finally arrives in America, the “Golden Mountain,” he will be poked, prodded and endlessly questioned before being allowed to even step ashore.  And yet, he had a good life in San Francisco, a long life.  He learned to know his father, to speak English, to work hard and finally to make a life for himself and his family.

There is an extensive and interesting author’s note which details more about the Chinese experience in the US.  Even more captivating though, are actual photos of Gim Lew Yep and his father, Yep Lung Gon, taken in both China and the US.  The Dragon’s Child is a short—119 pages—intensely fascinating tribute to the author’s family and all the other Chinese immigrants who despite frustration and bigotry made a place for themselves, their children and their children’s children in the Golden Mountain.  We are all the better for their struggles.

Posted by: Eileen


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