Hua delves into Scarlett's feelings of abandonment and her growing resentment as primary caregiver to Daisy and the babies. The story moves from the uncertain freneticism of despair and escape into a quiet domesticity punctuated by money woes and fear of deportation ... She approaches her story with journalistic purpose and warm humor, shedding light on Chinese birth tourism, the process by which pregnant women visit the United States on tourist visas to give birth to babies who instantly become citizens. Hua also addresses the difficulties Chinese women face in finding opportunities for advancement in a stratified economy ... In highlighting the struggles immigrants face in their home countries, Hua gives a very real face to a population often marginalized by political theorizing and racial clichés ... a revelatory novel that highlights the struggles of immigrant mothers in their quest to achieve citizenship and the American dream.
Hua spends time with many characters, whose dealings lend the novel the spice of family intrigue, a reminder of the inescapability of blood ties, and at least three secret illegitimate children. But her prose plunges us most completely into Scarlett’s mind, a kaleidoscopic, synesthetic experience, relatable and yet remote, as her thoughts flicker over the sights and smells of Chinatown, old memories and astringent remarks on American culture ... But the book’s more dramatic touches strain the reader’s suspension of disbelief. A River of Stars takes its name and its cues from a well-known Chinese legend ... It’s a pretty, sweeping tale, but its elements in the novel are saccharine next to the gritty facts of single, undocumented motherhood in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods ... By the end, the story’s various threads resolve in a decidedly upbeat celebration of the ingenuity of Chinese immigrants and, by extension, all who come to the States with everything to gain. But its fairy-tale tidiness is also oddly disappointing. It delivers the niggling sense that things don’t quite work out that way in real life, and that the gulf between fantasy and reality is vast indeed.
In Perfume Bay, a luxurious oasis just outside Los Angeles, pregnant Chinese women are pampered through the U.S. birth of precious progeny who will provide their parents with 'a foothold in America.' Among the guests is factory-manager Scarlett Chen, sent to the U.S. to bear the son of her older, married lover, who’s also her employer ... an astute debut novel that confronts identity, privilege, freedom, and a twenty-first-century rendering of the American dream with poignancy, insight, humor, and plenty of savvy charm.
...an intriguing plot filled with twists and turns showing how the two women fare on the run with their limited visas, abetted by luck and ingenuity. Hua's characterization is strong and engaging and her writing highly descriptive, likely the result of her journalistic background. Yet while the story opens with a lot of promise, it becomes progressively less realistic as plotlines and characters wander off in various directions with results more akin to a comical screenplay ... Overall, an entertaining read best for those who don't mind overly tidy and farfetched fairy tale-like endings.
...[a] courageous story ... The birth tourism aspect of the book is minor, compared with how it’s billed on the dust jacket, yet it’s one of the strongest parts of the story ... The new immigrant story is compelling and nail-biting at times ... while most of the story reads like a realistic portrait of life for new immigrants in the US, the prince charming aspect seems a little far-fetched ... Hua also sheds light into the plight of Chinese factory workers and how they struggle, far from home, to make ends meet.
In her skillful debut novel, Hua...introduces a strong heroine: fiercely independent Scarlett Chen ... Along with another young pregnant woman, she breaks free to scratch out an existence on the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown—a setup that is heartbreaking and, at turns, hilarious, as the two must remain undetected while they make their way across California ... Hua wonderfully evokes the exigencies of lives at the margins of American culture by revealing Scarlett’s enduring ingenuity as she navigates near-destitute single motherhood.
Hua...paints a vivid picture of Scarlett and Daisy’s unromantic and occasionally squalid, but nevertheless vibrant, life in Chinatown ... Unfortunately, the novel never fully capitalizes on its strengths. Boss Yeung’s narrative is tedious, and Scarlett’s lacks momentum. And the novel’s saccharine ending undercuts its atmospheric successes. A 21st-century immigrant story that, while intermittently intriguing, falls short of its potential.