From the bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet comes a powerful novel, inspired by a true story, about a boy whose life is transformed at Seattle’s epic 1909 World’s Fair.
“An evocative, heartfelt, beautifully crafted story that shines a light on a fascinating, tragic bit of forgotten history.”—Kristin Hannah, author of The Nightingale
For twelve-year-old Ernest Young, a charity student at a boarding school, the chance to go to the World’s Fair feels like a gift. But only once he’s there, amid the exotic exhibits, fireworks, and Ferris wheels, does he discover that he is the one who is actually the prize. The half-Chinese orphan is astounded to learn he will be raffled off—a healthy boy “to a good home.”
The winning ticket belongs to the flamboyant madam of a high-class brothel, famous for educating her girls. There, Ernest becomes the new houseboy and befriends Maisie, the madam’s precocious daughter, and a bold scullery maid named Fahn. Their friendship and affection form the first real family Ernest has ever known—and against all odds, this new sporting life gives him the sense of home he’s always desired.
But as the grande dame succumbs to an occupational hazard and their world of finery begins to crumble, all three must grapple with hope, ambition, and first love.
Fifty years later, in the shadow of Seattle’s second World’s Fair, Ernest struggles to help his ailing wife reconcile who she once was with who she wanted to be, while trying to keep family secrets hidden from their grown-up daughters.
Against a rich backdrop of post-Victorian vice, suffrage, and celebration, Love and Other Consolations is an enchanting tale about innocence and devotion—in a world where everything, and everyone, is for sale.
Praise for Love and Other Consolation Prizes
“Exciting . . . [Jamie] Ford captures the thrill of first kisses and the shock of revealing long-hidden affairs.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Strong . . . A laudable effort that shines light on little known histories.”—Library Journal
“Poignant . . . Vibrantly rendered.”—Booklist
“Combining rich narrative and literary qualities, the book achieves a multi-faceted emotional resonance. It is by turns heart-rending, tragic, disturbing, sanguine, warm, and life-affirming. Perceptive themes that run throughout culminate at the end. A true story from the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition inspired this very absorbing and moving novel. Highly recommended.”—Historical Novel Society (Editors’ choice)
“Ford is a master at shining light into dark, forgotten corners of history and revealing the most unexpected and relatable human threads. . . . A beautiful and enthralling story of resilience and the many permutations of love.”—Jessica Shattuck, author of The Women in the Castle
“All the charm and heartbreak of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet . . . Based on a true story, Love and Other Consolation Prizes will warm your soul.”—Martha Hall Kelly, author of Lilac Girls
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.
Love and Other Consolation Prizes is a well-written and heartbreaking novel. It is also based on a true story. The author brings the reader deep into the heart and mind of Ernest Young, as a young boy in China, and then, again, as a young man, in America, and lastly, as a wise senior, humbled by life, but content in his soul.
Ernest was only five-years-old when his mother left him standing alone in a cold cemetery. He was told to wait for a man who would be coming for him. He was being sent to America. Ernest missed his mother and yearned for her touch, even after watching her do an unthinkable act. The months that he spent in the cold bowels of a ship, starving and frightened, were some of the most painful memories for Ernest.
A raffle that took place at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, in Seattle, when Ernest was twelve-years-old, shocked him, because, Ernest discovered, much to his dismay, and embarrassment, that he was the raffled-off prize. The winner was a Madam of a high-class brothel, the Tenderloin. It was, there, at the Tenderloin, where Ernest, would learn about love, be accepted as a young man and be changed forever. Maise and Fahn would become his closest companions and shape his future.
When Ernest was in his sixties, one of his daughters, a journalist by profession asked to write his story. He was reluctant, though, because his daughters knew very little about his childhood. They also didn’t know about their mother’s sordid past, but those secrets were not his to tell. His daughter, however, was persistent, so Ernest began to relive for her, the poignant tale of his youth.
Love and Other Consolation Prizes is a fascinating and compelling read. The story is well-crafted, rich in detail, raw emotion, and realistic dialogue. The characters are fully developed and likable. Love and Other Consolation Prizes stayed with me long after I’d turned the last page.
Thank you, Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine and NetGalley, for my advanced review copy.
the story keeps the reader engaged and wanting more: more
Told in a dual-timeline style, the story begins with a five year old Yung Kun and the horrific events that led to his mother’s leaving him with a hairpin as she sent him off to emigrate to America. On the boat, we see the emergence of Ernest Young, a child in 1902, half-Chinese, in scary circumstances that his young mind can’t quite process. Instantly Ford draws readers in, giving a sense of the confusion and sorrow buried in this child, and shows us the true heart of the man to come: kindly, smart, observant and above all, his instinct to survive. Throughout the book, we follow the young boy through the arrival (and survival) at Dead Man’s Bay where his life in the Pacific Northwest begins. Shuffled off to a boarding school as a charity student, his loney and isolated life begins: a child desperate for a home and a place to belong, in a strange land and just different enough to not be accepted by either the white or Chinese community. As much as Ernest is changing, the world around him is too: technological advances unlike any of the previous years, the boon years at the turn of the century bring the world’s fair to Seattle – and the descriptions of the amazing sights the boy saw as he waited to become a prize in a raffle for a “Healthy boy to a good home for the winning ticket holder.” Here is where the young Ernest shows both that strength that was hard won in a life full of challenges, and the heart that was so open and giving. Purchased by a brothel madam to be the houseboy, he’s quick to befriend the madam’s daughter and a Japanese kitchen girl, giving him the sense of family he has so longed for.
Mixed with this tale of survival, growth and the sheer power of overcoming every obstacle, many unknown or forgotten in this modern era, we are treated to the older Ernest’s story in 1962 comes full circle with another world’s fair, and the stories he remembers that made him the man he is with his own family, friends and life. Presenting us with an interesting perspective on the impact of decisions made or forgone, the undefinable impact of family made or born to, and the survival of the human spirit the presence of Ernest is palpable and genuine.
It’s difficult to make this book sound just as special as it is: from the history that is learned to the descriptions of the atmosphere, the surprising (and sadly not) racism and discrimination, and the hope found from one woman determined to educate her ‘girls’, those destined for lives that can only be described as soul-draining, the strength of the characters sings loudly. Based on a true history of the author’s grandfather, there truly could be no better way to express his appreciation, nor to honor those who brought you to life than this. From quiet moments of reflection to the more diverse and wonder-filled descriptions of events, places and discoveries, the story keeps the reader engaged and wanting more: more for Ernest as he struggled to find a family even as he never truly lost hope or the memories of what was.
I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.