Too old to dream of being adopted, Ernest Young is raffled off at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific World Exposition to Madame Flora, who runs a notorious brothel. His adventures have just begun.
Ernest has already lived a lifetime of surprises and indignities. After his starving Chinese mother secured her only son a spot on a freighter to America, Ernest, only 5 years old, had to learn swiftly how to navigate a world that denigrated him not only for being an orphan, but also, and perhaps worse, for being of mixed blood. Ernest never knew his white father, but his youth and mixed heritage enabled him to make friends with both the Chinese girls on the ship and the lone Japanese girl, Fahn. Once Ernest survived a month captive in the hold of the ship, not to mention a near drowning, he became a ward of the state in Seattle and eventually attracted a wealthy sponsor, who sent him to an exclusive boarding school, where he endured racism and discrimination, and then, when he has the temerity to tell her he would rather go to another school, she has him raffled off at the World's Fair. Surprisingly, life in the bordello is exciting, not least because there Ernest meets Madame Flora’s tomboyishly charming daughter, Maisie, and reunites with Fahn. Falling in love with both, however, can only lead to heartache, since life in a brothel exacts certain prices. Ford (Songs of Willow Frost, 2014, etc.) casts this complex love story against the backdrop of the little-known history of Chinese and Japanese orphans, who found slavery and indentured servitude rather than opportunity in America. Now in his 60s , Ernest faces his wife Gracie's declining control over her memory, which endangers the secrets he has kept from their daughters. But now their eldest, an investigative reporter, has begun to discover some potentially scandalous secrets. Alternating between Ernest’s past and present, Ford captures the thrill of first kisses and the shock of revealing long-hidden affairs.
A lively history of romance in the dens of iniquity, love despite vice.