... engrossing, eventful ... Zhang has trained her gaze on an area of American history that has gone largely unnoticed in westerns, even revisionist ones: the Chinese immigrants who built railroads and worked in mines — only to be met with racist persecution when they tried to assimilate into American life ... Zhang’s descriptive prose is an arresting combination of earthy and lyric ... moves with nimble economy through Daiyu’s dislocations while poignantly rendering her struggle to maintain a coherent sense of self ... While psychologically sound, these projections at times feel overworked; the original story of Lin Daiyu, told briefly in the novel’s early pages, lacks sufficient potency to bear so much narrative weight ... Throughout the novel, Zhang adopts a stylistic tic of avoiding contractions. The inevitable formality of this device is offset by her exuberant prose, but it hampers her dialogue with a generic stiffness that undercuts the variety and individuality of speakers ... The resonance and immediacy of these barbarous 19th-century events are testament to Zhang’s storytelling powers, and should stand as a warning to all of us.
... beautifully-written if haunting ... While Zhang is not the first Chinese-American writer to tackle the United States’s shameful treatment of Chinese, her book certainly stands among the most memorable of these. With violence against Asian Americans at a recent all-time high, this lesson of the brutality inflicted on Chinese residents who were only trying to help build the United States into a more efficient and prosperous country could not be more timely.
... spirited ... The descriptions of this trip are terrifying. Equally as visceral are Zhang’s depictions of brothel life: the food, the feel of the rooms, the rivalries and friendships of the prostitutes, the subterfuges and cruel economics that make these places possible. In these moments, the author’s skill for sensory detail shine ... Though Daiyu’s story is shaped by true historical inequities, Four Treasures of the Sky comes to life through her journey to self-discovery and self-acceptance.
Zhang’s debut novel imaginatively illuminates an often-overlooked aspect of American history that resonates powerfully today, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and concurrent anti-Asian violence ... Zhang’s blend of history and magical realism will appeal to fans of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer (2019) as well as Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement (2013), Maxine Hong Kingston’s iconic memoir, The Woman Warrior (1976), and Tom Lin’s Carnegie Medal–winner The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu (2021).
... a propulsive, luscious work of historical fiction and mythology, told in the unforgettable voice of Lin Daiyu, a young Chinese girl who assumes various identities to escape, survive and thrive ... I cannot remember the last time I encountered a character with as memorable, haunting and poignant a voice as that of Lin Daiyu. Zhang, in forcing her protagonist to embody so many different names and lives, has achieved something remarkable: a layered, complex and inspiring portrait of the real girl at the heart of each identity ... On top of a fantastic voice-driven narrative, Zhang has crafted a gorgeous work of historical fiction that captures a little-discussed portion of American history centered on the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 ... a dazzling combination of history, unforgettable voice and Chinese mythology that promises much more to come from this bright and devastating new talent.
... lyrical and sweeping ... The author skillfully delineates the many characters and offers fascinating details on Chinese calligraphy and literature, along with an unsparing view of white supremacy. The result is fierce and moving.
Debut novelist Zhang has thoroughly researched this period; certain details, like Daiyu’s making her Pacific crossing in a coal bucket, startle and linger. Yet the relentlessly hopeful tone of much of the novel can feel discordant given the often grim realities of this historical period, which are gestured at here but not explored fully: Zhang’s depiction of sex work is superficial, and despite Daiyu’s long-term cross-dressing, the novel is disappointingly uninterested in queerness. It often feels designed more for teenagers than adult readers—Zhang’s expository explanation of the Chinese Exclusion Act is particularly leaden—and so its thoroughly bleak ending, partly inspired by a real historical massacre, comes as a jarring surprise. There’s nothing wrong with darkness—this novel could have used more—but its mix of tones feels out of whack ... A well-intentioned but frustrating debut that never comes together.