The life of San Francisco prostitute Fusang ("the famous whore responsible for the city's bad reputation") is surveyed in this curiously flat novel by the Chinese expatriate author of the exquisite story collection White Snake
(1999). It's set during the Gold Rush of the 1870s, narrated by both an omniscient author and an unnamed "writer" who addresses Fusang directly—a device that leads to moralizing, redundancy, and excessive summary. Yan has done her research but despite several vivid characters (notably the two very different men who love Fusang), the protagonist is made so representative of the fate of a generation of "lost daughters" that she never comes fully to life. As a result, a story that cries out for reader empathy instead leaves the reader frustrated and unmoved.
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