Jamie Ford's debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,was a good sell,but got mixed reviews. I read it and liked it so much that it got passed around my 'family reading circle'. Last week, I found his second novel, Songs of Willow Frost at the local library. The second novel returns to urban Seattle. This time he centers the story around the time of the Depression-era financial free fall and the rise of America's burgeoning film industry. His story centers around young William Eng, a young resident of the Sacred Heart Orphanage, who is turning twelve and still wonders when his mother will return for him. When he learns of the Hollywood actress Willow Frost's triumphant return to the stage in Seattle, he is sure that she is his mother. He sets out to see and speak to her. Thus begins a series of flashback chapters that tell of Willow's and William's sad lives.
This is a melodramatic story that gives an excellent snapshot of the prejudice within the Asian community of the time and in the larger American society - prejudice against actors, Asian-American citizens, the poor, and women. Liu Song, William's mother, compromises herself in many ways -by passively accepting 'her place' within her family, by changing her Asian name in order to become more acceptable within the theatrical world, by giving up her parental rights when she becomes financially strapped, and finally by losing her self-respect when she is confronted by a government child welfare officer who insists she return young William to his father. Sad circumstances, societal prejudice, government bureaucracy and misguided social policy destroys this small family.
Years later, there is a chance to make recompense, but will Liu Song and her son be able to survive after their reunion? That question is never answered and the reader is left to hang...and hope. Perhaps there will be a follow up novel that continues the story.
I wished Ford had knitted the strings of his story up with a more satisfying ending, but he did give his readers a good snapshot of Depression-era America, the beginnings of the movie culture that Hollywood cultivated, and the social and religious programs of the Progressive era that were misguided in their pompous practices that disregarded personal rights.