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Jamie Ford

Songs of Willow Frost

Jamie Ford Songs Of Willow Frost
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Biographical note:

The son of a Chinese American father, Jamie Ford is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which won the Asian-Pacific American Award for Literature. Having grown up in Seattle, he now lives in Montana with his wife and children.

Country of final manufacture:

US

Excerpt from book:

Sacred Hearts

(1934)

William Eng woke to the sound of a snapping leather belt and the shrieking of rusty springs that supported the threadbare mattress of his army surplus bed. He kept his eyes closed as he listened to the bare feet of children, shuffling nervously on the cold wooden floor. He heard the popping and billowing of sheets being pulled back, like trade winds filling a canvas sail. And so he drifted, on the favoring currents of his imagination, as he always did, to someplace else—anywhere but the Sacred Heart Orphanage, where the sisters inspected the linens every morning and began whipping the bed wetters.

He would have sat up if he could, stood at attention at the foot of his bunk, like the others, but his hands were tied—literally—to the bed frame.

“I told you it would work,” Sister Briganti said to a pair of orderlies whose dark skin looked even darker against their starched white uniforms.

Sister Briganti’s theory was that bed-wetting was caused by boys illicitly touching themselves. So at bedtime she began tying the boys’ shoes to their wrists. When that failed, she tied their wrists to their beds.

“It’s a miracle,” she said as she poked and prodded the dry sheets between William’s legs. He watched as she crossed herself, then paused, sniffing her fingers, as though seeking evidence her eyes and hands might not reveal. Amen, William thought when he realized his bedding was dry. He knew that, like an orphaned child, Sister Briganti had learned to expect the worst. And she was rarely, if ever, disappointed.

After the boys were untied, the last offending child punished, and the crying abated, William was finally allowed to wash before breakfast. He stared at the long row of identical toothbrushes and washcloths that hung from matching hooks. Last night there had been forty, but now one set was missing and rumors immediately spread among the boys as to who the runaway might be.

Tommy Yuen. William knew the answer as he scanned the washroom and didn’t see another matching face. Tommy must have fled in the night. That makes me the only Chinese boy left at Sacred Heart.

The sadness and isolation he might have felt was muted by a morning free from the belt, replaced by the hopeful smiles the other boys made as they washed their faces.

“Happy birthday, Willie,” a freckle-faced boy said as he passed by. Others sang or whistled the birthday song. It was September 28, 1934, William’s twelfth birthday—everyone’s birthday, in fact—apparently it was much easier to keep track of this way.

Armistice Day might be more fitting, William thought. Since some of the older kids at Sacred Heart had lost their fathers in the Great War, or October 29—Black Tuesday, when the entire country had fallen on hard times. Since the Crash, the number of orphans had tripled. But Sister Briganti had chosen the coronation of Ven­erable Pope Leo XII as everyone’s new day of celebration—a col­lective birthday, which meant a trolley ride from Laurelhurst to downtown, where the boys would be given buffalo nickels to spend at the candy butcher before being treated to a talking picture at the Moore Theatre.

But best of all, William thought, on our birthdays and, only on our birthdays, are we allowed to ask about our mothers.

Birthday mass was always the longest of the year, even longer than the Christmas Vigil—for the boy“If you liked Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, you’re going to love Songs of Willow Frost. . . . tender, powerful, and deeply satisfying.”—Lisa Genova
 
“[A] poignant tale of lost and found love.”—Tampa Bay Times
 
“Arresting . . . [with] the kind of ending readers always hope for, but seldom get.”—The Dallas Morning News
 
“[An] achingly tender story . . . a tale of nuance and emotion.”The Providence Journal
 
“Ford crafts [a] beautiful, tender tale of love transcending the sins people perpetrate on one another and shows how the strength of our primal relationships is the best part of our human nature.”—Great Falls Tribune
 
“Remarkable . . . likely to appeal to readers who enjoy the multi-generational novels of Amy Tan.”—Bookreporter
 
“Jamie Ford is a first-rate novelist, and with Songs of Willow Frost he takes a great leap forward and demonstrates the uncanny ability to move me to tears.”—Pat Conroy
 
“With vivid detail, Jamie Ford brings to life Seattle’s Chinatown during the Depression and chronicles the high price those desperate times exacted from an orphaned boy and the woman he believes is his mother. Songs of Willow Frost is about innocence and the loss of it, about longing, about the power of remembered love.”—Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank
 
“Ford’s boundless compassion for the human spirit, in all its strengths and weaknesses, makes him one of our most unique and compelling storytellers.”—Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
 
“A beautiful novel . . . William’s journey is one you’ll savor, and then think about long after the book is closed.”—Susan Wiggs, author of The Apple Orchard
 
“One of those rare books that move right into your heart and stay there . . . a delight to read [that is] destined to become a book-club favorite.”—Anne Fortier, author of Juliet
 
“Characters so full of passion and courage that we cannot help but follow them into the pages of history.”—Jean Kwok, author of Girl in Translation
 
“Ford weaves another rich tapestry of history and family drama in this cliff-hanging tale. . . . Hope and fate, laughs and tears: Songs of Willow Frost has it all.”—Ivan Doig, author of The Bartender’s Tale


From the Hardcover edition.


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