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Peter Ho Davies

The Fortunes

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

2017 Fiction

The Fortunes
Peter Ho Davies grew up in Coventry, England, the son of a Welsh engineer and a Malaysian Chinese dentist. It’s a soccer saturated place, and Sook Ying Davies remembers carrying him when England last won a World Cup. Her son studied physics as an undergraduate, but gravitated toward writing in a language—English—that was neither of his parents’ first tongue. Davies’ first published story, “Mountain,” arrived in print when he was 21.

Now teaching creative writing and playing indoor soccer in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Davies is drawn to questions of authenticity and constructed identities. He told the Guardian newspaper last year that “there’s not an identity that I can lay claim to that I don’t also feel ambiguous or ambivalent about, whether that’s Chineseness, or Welshness or Britishness. Do I hesitate to claim Americanness? Yes. But I feel the same hesitancy to claim any of those identities.”

So The Welsh Girl, longlisted for the Booker Prize, explores questions of Welshness. Davies sees his second novel, The Fortunes, as “examining the burdens, limitations and absurdity of Asian stereotypes.” It bends genre and race in ways that make it “a prophetic work in 2017,” according to Joyce Carol Oates, an Anisfield-Wolf juror.

The novel begins amid the 19th-century U.S. Gold Rush, and in the mind of Ah Ling, who has come from Hong Kong to work his way up from Sacramento laundry labor to valet for an American railroad baron. The second section tells of Anna May Wong, the first Chinese film star in Hollywood, who wasn’t cast in “The Good Earth;” the lead in the 1937 film went to Luise ((cq)) Rainer. The third section centers on Vincent Chin, killed in 1982 by a Detroit autoworker and his stepson who mistook Chin for Japanese. His death galvanized Asian American civil rights. The fourth story follows John Ling Smith, a Chinese-American writer who speaks no Mandarin or Cantonese. He and his wife visit China to adopt a daughter.

The Fortunes is a boldly imagined work of fiction in which historic figures—Chinese, Chinese-American, ‘white’—come to an astonishingly vivid, visceral life through the power of Peter Ho Davies’s prose,” Oates writes.

On Davies’ website is a playlist to accompany The Fortunes. It contains some tunes that appear in the book, and pairs songs to reflect cultural dualities. So the Cee Lo Green/Jack Black version of “Kung Fu Fighting” matches with the Carl Douglas take. And Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “These Foolish Things” sits next to Leslie Hutchinson’s. The song itself is thought to have been inspired by Anna May Wong.

Davies lives in Ann Arbor with his wife Lynne Raughley and son Owen.

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Blog Posts about Peter Ho Davies

That's A Wrap! Cleveland Book Week 2017, From Cover To Cover

From left to right: Cleveland Foundation President Ronn Richard, Peter Ho Davies, Tyehimba Jess, Isabel Allende, Ansfield-Wolf juror Rita Dove, Margot Lee Shetterly, Karan Mahajan, Anisfield-Wolf Jury chair Henry Louis Gates Jr. Photo by Robert Muller. Last week we celebrated Cleveland Book Week, a series of book and literacy-themed events surrounding the 82nd annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. From September 5-9, community events across Greater Cleveland honored this year’s Anisfield-Wolf winners and celebrated all things literary in our... Read More →

Novelist Peter Ho Davies Accepts 2017 Chautauqua Prize, Muses On Identity And Nuance In "The Fortunes"

Peter Ho Davies holds up the 2017 Chautauqua Prize while speaking about his book The Fortunes July 12, 2017 in the Hall of Philosophy. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR Peter Ho Davies – a gracious, wise and observant British-born fiction writer – welcomed a question about the title of his most recent work, “The Fortunes.” It won both the Chautauqua Prize and an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award this year. Tentatively called “Tell it Slant,” a reference both to Emily Dickenson and a racial slur against Asians, the edgy title pleased both Davies... Read More →

Introducing Our Class Of 2017

The Cleveland Foundation today announced the winners of its 82nd Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. The 2017 recipients of the only national juried prize for literature that confronts racism and examines diversity are: • Isabel Allende, Lifetime Achievement • Peter Ho Davies, The Fortunes, Fiction • Tyehimba Jess, Olio, Poetry • Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs, Fiction • Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures, Nonfiction “The new Anisfield-Wolf winners broaden our insights on race and diversity,” said... Read More →
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