Human trafficking wasn’t exactly a topic I was looking forward to reading about. So why did I pick up this book from the library instead of letting it languish on my (virtual) TBR shelf? I have to credit Jennifer 8 Lee’s Fortune Cookie Chronicles for that. Lee wrote about snakehead Sister Ping and the Golden Venture, the ship with 286 illegal immigrants that ran aground in New York. And I remembered placing The Snakehead on my TBR list a while back. And lo and behold, it was the very same Sister Ping and the Golden Venture.
The other part that intrigued me was the involvement of the Chinese gangs of New York, and that these were Chinese who had originated from Fujian province (the same province from which my great grandfather had emigrated, and so did the ancestors of many Chinese Singaporeans and Southeast Asians of Chinese descent):
“It has always been one of China’s most outward-looking regions, home to seafarers and traders, smugglers and explorers: a historic point of embarkation. Over a millennium of isolation from the rest of China and exposure to the outside world, the region and its people developed an adventurous, somewhat maverick sensibility.”
This book became my go-to book several days in a row, unusual for a non-fiction work, as I tend to take my time with these, dipping into them every now and then, sometimes hving to renew the books or return them before I reached the end.
But The Snakehead just flowed for me. And since it’s not a topic that has interested me before, I can only put it down to a job well done by this writer an his editor. Yes, the story of the capture of the elusive Sister Ping and the shipwreck and imprisonment of the passengers of Golden Venture is fascinating in itself but this book could have also easily resulted in a reader being confused or worse, disinterested, if not for its thorough research and the clear, accessible writing. Keefe has written an admirable book, with a strong, cohesive narrative, not an easy task for a book cobbled from over 300 interviews, government documents and court transcripts.
This is non-fiction at its best.