A MAP OF PARADISE by Linda Ching Sledge

A MAP OF PARADISE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Unusual historical accuracy distinguishes an otherwise formulaic novel of a plucky Chinese family: a portrait of Tang immigrants, on whose backs so much of the infrastructure of California and Hawaii was built. Sledge's second (Empire of Heaven, 1990) opens as peasant general Pao An and his warrior wife Rulan, an escaped concubine, flee a failed Taiping rebellion by signing on as indentured servants for the sugarcane plantations of Hawaii. But Pao An is shipped instead to California, spending the next seven years building the dikes that tamed the Sacramento Delta floodplains, becoming witness to nature's awesome calamities and the even worse cruelties of racist white settlers. Rulan has an easier time as a much-loved servant in Hawaii for a patrician but childless New England minister and his wife, whose love for Rulan's daughter, Molly, provides a surprising plot twist: On Pao An's return, Molly will hate him for forcing the little family to live in Chinatown's cramped poverty. She also hates her father's orphan-boy companion, Lin Kong, tormenting him every chance she gets--which, of course, means that the two are destined for each other. Throughout, Sledge delivers tremendous set-pieces--a killer flood in California, a dizzy soiree between King Kalakaua and Robert Louis Stevenson on the King's yacht, a nuanced look at the still-controversial annexation of Hawaii by US sugar planters--even though the characters here sometimes have trouble catching their breath while jogging through fires, hurricanes, Tong warfare, love affairs, and economic ups and downs. A superior work of history, then, with some genuinely affecting moments among its fictional characters--and a demonstration of how much of the West was East in the rambunctious Manifest Destiny days of the late 19th century.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1997
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Bantam