Love And Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford– 320 pages
Inspired by a true story, this is the unforgettable story of a young boy named Ernest, set during the 1909 Seattle world’s fair called the Alaska Yukon Pacific Expo. It is a time when the magical wonders of technology on display at the expo future seems limitless. But for Ernest, a half-Chinese orphan who found his way to America through a last desperate act of his beloved mother, every door is closed. A charity student at a boarding school, he has never really had a place to call home. Then one day, his wealthy sponsor announces that if a home is what he wants, then that is what he will have: Ernest will be offered as a prize in the daily raffle at the fair, advertised as “Healthy boy to a good home for the winning ticket holder.” The woman who “wins” him is the madam of a notorious brothel who was famous for educating her girls. He becomes a houseboy in her brothel and is befriended by the daughter of the madam, as well as a Japanese girl who works in the kitchen. The friendship and love between these three form the first real family Ernest has ever known.
My Review: 4.5 stars
Love And Other Consolation Prizes is a historically rich fictional tale inspired by the true story of an infant that was raffled off at Seattle’s World Fair. In reality, the winner never claimed the infant and this child’s whereabouts is still a mystery. In this novel, the raffle is for a mixed race older child called Ernest, who is twelve years old. Jamie Ford works wonders as he spins a fabulous telling of this child’s fictionalized life.
This book starts in the early 1960s and alternates back in time to the early 1900s as Ernest’s story unfolds. So much history is shared about Seattle and the living and social conditions of the Chinese immigrants. After recently reading The Girl Who Wrote in Silk, I was introduced to the immigration from China to Seattle and how hard it could be. It was no different for Ernest as he is orphaned many times over and his strength and character are tested multiple times. He is a character that the reader will both ache for and cheer for as he makes his way in the world.
The other characters in the book are so well formed. Their descriptions and personalities allowed this book to truly be a movie in my mind. Fahn, Masie, Flora, Miss. Amber and The Professor were a few that became etched in my imagination, all flawed yet all doing the best they could. Through these characters, we see compassion, manners, honesty, love, loneliness, loss, madness, bravery, mortality and vulnerability.
Ernest’s life as an adult gives him much time to reflect, especially because his daughter is an investigative reporter who is researching the 1909 World’s Fair, aka the Alaskan-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Additionally, Ernest’s wife Gracie, who is suffering from syphilis related (unknown to family and friends) dementia, is having sudden memories pop into her head and right out her mouth. Ernest is sharing the story his way, on his own terms, before Gracie says something that could damage his girls’ opinions or feelings for their parents.
I’m grateful that I had an early opportunity to read this wonderful tale of what it means to have a family. Thanks to Ballantine Books and Netgalley.
Quotes I liked:
The present is merely the past reassembled.
-“Memories are narcotic. Like the array of pill bottles that sit cluttered on my nightstand. Each dose, carefully administered, use as directed. Too much and they become dangerous. Too much and they’ll stop your heart.”
-“Happiness is a state of mine, not something you’ll find on a map.”
-“That’s Seattle for you, the land of the haves and the why nots?”
-“Water in Yin. Fire is Yang. And tea a perfect expression of both…both sides of life, hot and cold, light and dark, not as opposites, but as complementary parts of each other.”
-“I got everything I wanted and nothing that I needed.”
-Gracie’s memory was like a jigsaw puzzle with parts that didn’t always fit, but she ‘d found the all important edge pieces. She was beginning to reframe her life-their life. It was a work in progress, but the image was coming together.”