...a beautifully constructed novel ... Davies does a masterful job tying the strands together in the novel's final section ... The Fortunes is a stunning look at what it means to be Chinese, what it means to be American, and what it means to be a person navigating the strands of identity, the things that made us who we are, whoever that is.
Though the stories can stand on their own, recurring motifs, details, and historical figures thread through the chapters, weaving a poignant, intricately patterned brocade of the Chinese-American experience ... His genius is not in the aggregation, but in the canny crafting of an embarrassment of racist riches into a resplendent, inventive, heartbreaking chronicle of the Chinese-American experience.
Throughout the book, Davies’ handling of genre and form, moving from historical romance to fragmented narrative to a final section that presents earlier chapters as the unfinished work of the writer John Smith, is both purposefully distancing and multilayered, creating another history out of alternate puzzle pieces.
Infusing the whole is a sardonic humor. Racist slurs and stereotypes cling to Davies’s characters like burrs, the lacerating bits of American culture against which they must define themselves ... Davies makes it hard to laugh. There’s a hollowness at the core of his characters, as if the price of psychic oppression, of a lifetime on the receiving end of unjust laws and casual racism, is not merely a diminished sense of self but, alarmingly, an absence ... Davies’s narrative is all shimmery surfaces: smoldering lamplight, glistening skin, shirtfronts “stiff and gleaming as armor” — all of it, he implies, mere metaphor for the ultimate shimmery prize of gold.
These three sections are vividly detailed novellas whose rich language and engaging characters not only bring history alive but also address contemporary issues of race and belonging with heartache, fire and empathy. Only in section four does Ho Davies falter when the tone shifts, and the book becomes jokey and heavy-handed ... Despite its flaws, The Fortunes is an important novel that attempts to give voice to Chinese-American characters who have been silenced in the past.
The episodes vary in quality. The strongest is the first, which imagines the Gold Rush-era arrival of Ling, an orphaned teenager, in California ... In contrast, the short middle chapters read like false starts, albeit flecked with sardonic humor ... This rewarding, unorthodox novel embodies those halting attempts and imperfections.
Part of the joy and value of The Fortunes lies in its vivid survey of the history of Chinese people in America, and many readers, especially non-Asian-American readers, might find their eyes opened to a new understanding of the Chinese-American historical identity ... In a thought-provoking, sharply written, four-part novelistic chronicle of Chinese-American life, The Fortunes proves uneven at times but the powerful prose and themes shine through.
The interlocked vignettes are haunting ... In an era loaded with the charged binary of black/white relations, Davies’ elegant meditations on the paths of these four lives through American racialization enlarge the scope ... As the book goes on, Davies’ tales syncopate, constellate. In them are questions of value and valuelessness; home and homelessness; presence and erasure. These are stories of trying to return and of going forward, stories in which home and geography are scrambled and emergent.