The Celestials: A Novel
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The Celestials is a historical novel of immigration, multiculturalism, labor, community and exclusion, alienation and reinvention, and our country's peculiar history and relationship with all those things. It's about our shared sense that we're all aliens of some kind--at home in no place.
In June of 1870, seventy-five Chinese laborers arrived in North Adams, Massachusetts, to work for Calvin Sampson, one of the biggest industrialists in that busy factory town. Except for the foreman, the Chinese didn’t speak English. They didn’t know they were strikebreakers. The eldest of them was twenty-two. Combining historical and fictional elements, The Celestials beautifully reimagines the story of Sampson’s “Chinese experiment” and the effect of the newcomers’ threatening and exotic presence on the New England locals. When Sampson’s wife, Julia, gives birth to a mixed-race baby, the infant becomes a lightning rod for the novel’s conflicts concerning identity, alienation, and exile.
woman’s. Actually, Lucy found their shaved heads more than alarming. They were so smooth, so clean-shaven that she couldn’t stop imagining what it would be like to touch one of them, slippery and viscous beneath her fingertips. One looked at her and with a pleasant smile that narrowed his already oblique eyes said, “How do?” Her attacker had bid her good afternoon as he had wrapped his arm around her from behind. The back of his hand had been hairless. She shook her head rapidly like a hound
perhaps most confusing to him, did these uncertainties not make him retreat to a self-protective distance? But in Mr. Hurd’s studio, he noted that Sampson in no way seemed to be part of the endeavor. Mrs. Sampson expressed an enthusiasm for the objects the Chinese had brought that he found startling. She picked up Ah Har’s rice paper letter and asked Charlie if it was a letter from the boy’s family. She wanted to know if Chung Him Teak had carried the scarf with him on this whole long journey
would not do damage here. In the morning she must convince Alfred of the same. Her father would be pleased by her decision and the reasons for it. But the full truth was at that point in her life beyond her understanding. Her mind, in its wandering that night, kept returning to speculation of what might have passed between the Celestial and the white woman. And to a fascination of such pull that she could no more turn away from it and its implications than a child could from an open door through
because her original intent had been to extract his promise to do no damage when it came to Charlie and Mrs. Sampson and that baby, she found herself doing much worse. She did take him by the hands, and she did put her face to his, in order to tell him that all he said was true, and although she did not love him now, she might yet learn to love him. Although the relief on his face was not complete, when he gave her a brief, shy smile and said, “Well, then,” Ida knew herself to be a hateful
through the Hoosac Tunnel, California Democrats staged an anti-Chinese rally that attracted a crowd of twenty-five thousand, and less than one percent of the Chinese in America were citizens. He opened his own wholesale and retail store, funded in small part by an investment from the Sampsons. He specialized in Chinese curios, coffees, and teas, and the Transcript praised his latest endeavor for its very large stock of heavy groceries, consisting of flour, syrups, molasses, etc., selling at