” That man-stealers were without pity I did not doubt: only people without a grain of human feeling would act like beasts of prey. To beg my kidnappers for mercy, then, would be a waste of spit. ” (10)
I am not aware of human trafficking to the Americas back in the 19th century in China. This history of Chinese diaspora is vividly told, with breathtaking urgency, in the critical intervention of McCunn, who is an Eurasian and lived in Hong Kong for 16 years. I read God of Luck all in one sitting, completely drawn in to the story of Ah Lung. Born Yuet Lung (moon dragon), he is the youngest son in a family of silk producers. He is kidnapped and forced into slavery on a guano island in Peru. His wife, Bo See, knows he was kidnapped but never gives up hope that he will return, for they have yet to bear children. Over time Bo See seems to withdraw to a melancholy solitude at silkworm house.
When attacked, men complained of burning heat although their skin felt clammy cold . . . None of those felled survived. Death, though, came swiftly. In truth, were it not for my family, I would have welcomed it. (146)
The book is very minimal in scale, with short chapters that alternate between Ah Lung and his wife’s narration. They seem to connect in spirit as their thoughts, if put together, contribute a dialogue. A good deal of the novel depicts Ah Lung’s horrifying sail to Peru after he falls victim to a hoax. He endures being shackled in an overcrowded ship’s hold, survives a failed mutiny, a shipboard fire, and a cholera outbreak, before being disembarked and forced to mine on a Peruvian island.
In truth, these are not punishments but tortures which pleasure the devil-king, and more than one digger has been pushed beyond endurance into madness. (171)
God of Luck is a very simple story but with complex historical elements. It reveals the little-known coolie trade to Peru. The main hero endures back-breaking labor in a foreign land with the sadness and determination of a wife and family back home. I do wish McCunn has elaborated on the wife, whose rearing from a traditional family seems very tantalizing. The book has an epic sweep, provoking reader’s outrage at the subject matter, but lacking psychological depth, which undermines the plot’s tension.
238 pp. Soft Cover. [Read/
Skim/ Toss] [ Buy/Borrow]