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Review Hua, Vanessa. A River of Stars. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2016. 304 pp. $15.70 Hardcover. Vanessa Hua’s debut novel A River of Stars focuses on a Chinese immigrant woman, Scarlett Chen, who builds a life for herself and her baby in San Francisco’s Chinatown. While the premise of the novel may seem typical of an immigration narrative, Scarlett’s unique past and Hua’s colorful and unromantic portrayal of the Chinese American communities capture a diversity that exists within groups of immigrants from the same country, breaking the myth of a monolithic immigrant identity. To start, Scarlett is a single woman who has escaped devastating poverty in China by becoming a manager of a manufacturing factory in a major city. Her life takes a turn when her affair with her rich, married boss results in an unexpected pregnancy. Ecstatic that her baby is a son, Boss Yeung sends Scarlett to a secret maternity home in Los Angeles to secure American citizenship for their baby. Being in love with Boss Yeung, Scarlett only reluctantly agrees to his plan. From the very beginning, Hua complicates Scarlett’s reason for her migration — Scarlett comes to the U.S. not for financial or social security, but for love and the hope of keeping her family together. Thus, this novel serves as a good platform for students to discuss and explore different push-pull factors of immigration, including factors that are not commonly discussed. After arriving to the U.S., Scarlett lives in a maternity home, cloistered with a group of elite, pregnant Chinese wives who are part of birthing tourism, an industry developed to help tourists travel to the U.S. for the purpose of giving birth on American soil. The choice to depict the industry with vivid details is bold on Hua’s part because it is a taboo topic within the Chinese American community. By giving readers an inside look into this complex industry, Hua offers a rare view from the participants’ perspectives. Hua’s portrayal of the maternity home is scathingly realistic. Shut away from the rest of the society and their men, the women here make no pretenses in keeping up with their social graces. Since they all despise Scarlett for being a working-class woman and a mistress, Scarlett suffers abuses ranging from name-calling to being dragged into physical fights. During Scarlett’s stay in this maternity home, she learns that Boss Yeung has never intended to marry her. Instead, he plans to pay Scarlett off for her baby. Afraid of his wealth and power, Scarlett secretly escapes to San Francisco before she gives birth. Throughout the rest of the novel, Scarlett struggles to carve out a place for herself and her baby in Chinatown. The novel is told in the third-person perspective focusing mostly on Scarlett’s narrative, switching between her life in America and her former



Document Type

Book Review


A review of Vanessa Hua's 2018 novel, A River of Stars.



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