Songs of Willow Frost

I love learning history from novels..and when I first encountered Ford’s Hotel on the corner of bitter sweet I loved how he brought to focus some of the rarely referenced issues California WWII Chinese faced along with Japanese along with a lovely light romance.

I also loved the immersion into Pacific Northwest Chinese culture to be found in Songs of Willow Frost. The main protagonist is the “orphaned” (as often happened during the recession pictured in the novel many times orphans had one or more parents that couldn’t afford them) son of a Chinese actress/singer who rediscovers the location of his mother threw her work.

We learn some interesting stuff about early movie studios outside Hollywood, early Asian actors such as Sessue Hayakawa (silent movie actor) and a bit about working class Chinese culture in the Pacific Northwest. No surprise there’s some painful racism here that results in women going through complicated childbirth being refused at white hospitals, etc.

This view of Pacific Northwest film and chinese history is mostly super sweet and thoughtful. The main orphans’ thoughts are many times quite adult-sounding to me in a way that I didn’t always think rang true to the emotional heart of the story. And sometimes, the super-sweetness glossed so far over the reality of what was happening (other than the first abusive episode that results in the conception of the orphan) that I think it weakened some of the emotional impact. (What Willow Frost has to endure after she loses her job hawking music scores, the dark hints of what Charlotte the orphan friend endured from her father, etc).

So while I wanted to give this book 5 stars solely because I think its important to read for the historical parts, sweet and sadly dreamy story– I did at times get a little bored and I attribute that to the glossing over of the really, heavy-hitting devastating parts of this story and the orphan’s philosophical/thoughtful view we get of events.