Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Liel Leibovitz & Matthew Miller's "Fortunate Sons"

Liel Leibovitz is a writer and teaches at New York University. He is the co-author (with Todd Gitlin) of The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election and (with Matthew Miller) of Lili Marlene: The Soldiers’ Song of World War II.

Leibovitz and Miller applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Fortunate Sons: The 120 Chinese Boys Who Came to America, Went to School, and Revolutionized an Ancient Empire, and reported the following:
If, dear reader, you read but one page of our new book, Fortunate Sons, page 99 would be a stellar choice.

It begins with our protagonists—young Chinese boys dispatched to study in America and learn the ways of the west—at their moment of arrival in San Francisco in 1872. They are overwhelmed by the bustling metropolis, but largely unaware of the troubling political forces at play.

“The arriving students,” we write, “too young to appreciate the political and social currents, could be forgiven for naively believing that San Francisco was a paradise for the Chinese, a glittering city where self-exiled immigrants were able to enjoy mechanical elevators and electric bells whenever they please.”

On page 99, you, reader, will learn what the excitable boys do not yet know: that San Francisco, for all of its wonders, was a place deeply hostile to its Chinese immigrants, a town where various punitive measures, from anti-Chinese taxation to anti-Chinese rhetoric, were commonplace.

The boys, however, were otherwise preoccupied. Headed to New England, where they would live with foster families and attend American schools for a decade, they were fascinated with the “fire-car roads,” their name for trains. As page 99 comes to an end, they embark on the seminal train ride of their lives, aboard the trans-continental railway, “across America’s mountains, valleys, and yawning prairies.” It’s a journey filled with adventure: before too long, the boys’ train would be robbed by bandits and attacked by Native Americans, as it rushed past a heartland revolutionized by new inventions like John Deere’s plow, en route to the north and their new lives.

From children in China’s rural south to American students to becoming the founding fathers of their modern nation, the boys lived a long journey. But every journey, as a wise Chinese man once said, must begin with one small step, and the boys’ small step begins on page 99.
Preview Fortunate Sons, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue