Published September 2017 by Random House Publishing
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
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.
Sometimes it's good to be completely surprised by a book. Sometimes it's great to find, within a books pages, exactly what you expected to find.
Love and Other Consolation Prizes falls into that second category for me. I've read both of Ford's previous books (Hotel On The Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost) and expect to learn a lot about the history of the Pacific Northwest and the Chinese and Japanese immigrants who came there when I open one of Ford's books. I expect that there will be children involved in the story and I expect that there will be tears (mine) at some point in the reading. Love and Other Consolation Prizes more than met my expectations in all regards.
"This is a love story, but so was the tale of Romeo and Juliet. That was the greatest love story of all time. And we all know how that turned out."We don't know how Ernest Young's love story will turn out but this book is more than just a love story. It is also a story about families, even unconventional ones. It's a story about accepting people for who they are and about the kinds of sacrifices people are willing to make, both to get what they want and for others.
Ford also raises moral questions that don't necessarily have black or white answers. The character of Mrs. Irvine is a woman who pays for Ernest to attend a private school but only because it makes her feel better about herself. She doesn't care that Ernest if treated as a servant by the richer, white boys; she doesn't want to know that he is left out of all extracurricular activities. She is only too quick to punish him when he expresses the slightest self-interest by raffling him off to a good home. How he might be treated in that home interests her not at all, as long as the home belongs to good, white Christians. For the coming decades, she will make tirelessly work to destroy the home that Ernest does find himself in. Given that the home is, in fact, a brothel, is she wrong to do so? At Madame Flora's, Ernest is given his own room, clothing, responsibilities, and a fair wage. More importantly, he is surrounded by people who care about him, even love him. Which is the better woman?
The love triangle at the heart of the story is lovely - Fahn and Maisie are friends, both are in love with Ernest and he with them. Both Fahn and Maisie are fighting to make their way in the world and Ernest will do what ever it takes to try to keep them from becoming "upstairs girls." I wanted to wrap all three of them up in my arms and make life better, more fair. Later in life, my heart broke for Ernest again but Ford, as you will know if you've read his previous books, will not let this be an entirely sad story. There will be reunions, there will be hope.
Like his previous books, Love and Other Consolation Prizes would make a terrific book club selection. From the history of the two Seattle World's Fairs, the importing of Chinese and Japanese children to sell in the United States, the ethics of governments and police forces, the treatment of immigrants there is a lot of here to talk about. And that doesn't even touch on the themes of family, love, abuse, morality, and friendship. Ford packs a lot into this book, making it a lovely book with a lot of depth.