An enchanting tale of innocence and devotion
1909, Seattle. For Ernest Young, the chance to experience the exotic exhibits and carnival rides at the city’s famous World’s Fair feels like the perfect birthday gift. But the half-Chinese orphan finds his world turned upside down when he discovers that he will be a prize, raffled off to ‘a good home’.
The winning ticket belongs to the flamboyant madam of a high-class brothel, and so begins Ernest’s new life. His days of hard work are enriched by his friendship with two girls and he believes he’s found the home he has always longed for – until the three begin to grow up and the choices they must make will haunt them for decades.
1962. On the eve of the new World’s Fair, Ernest is juggling memories and the demands of his ailing wife, while trying to hold on to long-held family secrets which threaten to break free.
INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY
‘An evocative, heartfelt, beautifully crafted story’ Kristin Hannah, author of The Nightingale
In this uneven novel from Ford (Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet), the 1962 Seattle World's Fair brings back memories for Ernest Young, n Yung Kun-ai, a man in his 60s. In 1902, Ernest travels in steerage to the United States and ends up in a Seattle orphanage. In 1909 he's auctioned off at the World's Fair, becoming a houseboy in an upscale brothel in the Tenderloin district. There he befriends Fahn, a Japanese girl who was in steerage with him seven years prior, and Maisie, the madam's daughter, falling in love with both of them. Back in 1962, it's made clear that Ernest's ailing wife, now called Gracie, shares his difficult past but which girl he married frustratingly isn't revealed until late in the book. Their grown children, Hanny, a Vegas dancer, and Juju, a journalist, don't have the full story about their parents' history until Juju discovers an article about a boy auctioned off at the 1909 fair whose name was "Ernest" and wants to delve further into it. Despite the book's flaws, Ford nevertheless excels at juxtaposing Seattle in the 1910s, with its Temperance movements, prostitution, and political involvement in the city's underbelly, against the glitter and promise of the 1962 World's Fair.