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Paper Wife: A Novel

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From the bestselling author of Yellow Crocus comes a heart-wrenching story about finding strength in a new world. Southern China, 1923. Desperate to secure her future, Mei Ling’s parents arrange a marriage to a widower in California. To enter the country, she must pretend to be her husband’s first wife—a paper wife. On the perilous voyage, Mei Ling takes an orphan girl named From the bestselling author of Yellow Crocus comes a heart-wrenching story about finding strength in a new world. Southern China, 1923. Desperate to secure her future, Mei Ling’s parents arrange a marriage to a widower in California. To enter the country, she must pretend to be her husband’s first wife—a paper wife. On the perilous voyage, Mei Ling takes an orphan girl named Siew under her wing. Dreams of a better life in America give Mei Ling the strength to endure the treacherous journey and detainment on Angel Island. But when she finally reaches San Francisco, she’s met with a surprise. Her husband, Chinn Kai Li, is a houseboy, not the successful merchant he led her to believe. Mei Ling is penniless, pregnant, and bound to a man she doesn’t know. Her fragile marriage is tested further when she discovers that Siew will likely be forced into prostitution. Desperate to rescue Siew, she must convince her husband that an orphan’s life is worth fighting for. Can Mei Ling find a way to make a real family—even if it’s built on a paper foundation?


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From the bestselling author of Yellow Crocus comes a heart-wrenching story about finding strength in a new world. Southern China, 1923. Desperate to secure her future, Mei Ling’s parents arrange a marriage to a widower in California. To enter the country, she must pretend to be her husband’s first wife—a paper wife. On the perilous voyage, Mei Ling takes an orphan girl named From the bestselling author of Yellow Crocus comes a heart-wrenching story about finding strength in a new world. Southern China, 1923. Desperate to secure her future, Mei Ling’s parents arrange a marriage to a widower in California. To enter the country, she must pretend to be her husband’s first wife—a paper wife. On the perilous voyage, Mei Ling takes an orphan girl named Siew under her wing. Dreams of a better life in America give Mei Ling the strength to endure the treacherous journey and detainment on Angel Island. But when she finally reaches San Francisco, she’s met with a surprise. Her husband, Chinn Kai Li, is a houseboy, not the successful merchant he led her to believe. Mei Ling is penniless, pregnant, and bound to a man she doesn’t know. Her fragile marriage is tested further when she discovers that Siew will likely be forced into prostitution. Desperate to rescue Siew, she must convince her husband that an orphan’s life is worth fighting for. Can Mei Ling find a way to make a real family—even if it’s built on a paper foundation?

30 review for Paper Wife: A Novel

  1. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    This book drew me in from the first page and didn't release me until the last - even then, I didn't really want it to end. The novel begins in 1923 in China. Already, that has my interest as I love historical fiction books with the added bonus of life and traditions in China thrown in. I was hooked. Mei Ling's sister was to become the "paper wife" of a widower with one small son (whom he has yet to meet) who will be living in California. When her sister becomes very ill just before she is to leave This book drew me in from the first page and didn't release me until the last - even then, I didn't really want it to end. The novel begins in 1923 in China. Already, that has my interest as I love historical fiction books with the added bonus of life and traditions in China thrown in. I was hooked. Mei Ling's sister was to become the "paper wife" of a widower with one small son (whom he has yet to meet) who will be living in California. When her sister becomes very ill just before she is to leave with the widower, Mei Ling's parents tell her she must stand in for her sister to preserve the family honor after making a promise to a matchmaker. Mei Ling finds herself bound to a man she doesn't know with a small child to boot. She marries Kai Li and will use the voyage to California to learn all about his first wife, so she can lie to the authorities effortlessly. They consummate the marriage and board a ship to the United States. Mei Ling knows it is probably the last time she will ever see her birth family. Aboard the ship, men are separated from women and Mei Ling's dreams of a beautiful oceanic voyage are crushed. She is far below the deck, in cramped, damp, and a stinking hold. However, it is there she makes two lifelong friends, one a young child, another an older woman. While traveling, Mei Ling realizes she is also with child. I won't divulge any more because to do so would be spoiling what is a story that needs to tell itself. I highly recommend this book - I absolutely loved it, start to finish - I just hope there will be a sequel.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Karen Kay

    I received this from netgalley.com in exchange for a review. Mei Ling’s parents arrange a marriage to a widower in California. To enter the country, she must pretend to be her husband’s first wife—a paper wife. Set in early 1920's, California, Mei Ling is forced to protect her fragile marriage and her children by making decisions that will have a life long effect. Easy read, good historical fiction story that would be appropriate for younger teens. 3☆

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kristie

    This was a wonderful book. I really enjoy Laila Ibrahim's writing. I loved the first book I read by her, Yellow Crocus. This story has similar pacing. I enjoyed getting to know the characters in this story. Some of them were more well-rounded than others, but I still enjoyed hearing their stories. A couple of questions were left open, so you don't know everything you want to about all of them, but you know them all well enough. I would have given the story 5 stars except for a couple of minor thi This was a wonderful book. I really enjoy Laila Ibrahim's writing. I loved the first book I read by her, Yellow Crocus. This story has similar pacing. I enjoyed getting to know the characters in this story. Some of them were more well-rounded than others, but I still enjoyed hearing their stories. A couple of questions were left open, so you don't know everything you want to about all of them, but you know them all well enough. I would have given the story 5 stars except for a couple of minor things towards the end that I didn't love. (view spoiler)[ I wasn't a fan of the "ghost" and I didn't really like that Mei Ling killed Jack Wong, even if it was to save Siew. I was wondering how much her gold coins are worth and wondering if she would pay him off with those coins, which were meant to help her children. I don't take issue that he died; I'm just not thrilled with the way that whole situation played out. (hide spoiler)] These issues were minor to me and I would still recommend this story to fans of the genre. 4.5★ Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dawn Michelle

    It is difficult to review a book like Paper Wife because there is just so much there and any review would have to include spoilers and I am not that kind of review writer [typically]. So I am trying to think of a way to encourage you to read this lovely book without giving anything away. If you read the blurb on Goodreads, it does just that, so I encourage you to NOT do that. I was so glad that I didn't look at that until I was more than halfway in and already knew some of the stuff that they sp It is difficult to review a book like Paper Wife because there is just so much there and any review would have to include spoilers and I am not that kind of review writer [typically]. So I am trying to think of a way to encourage you to read this lovely book without giving anything away. If you read the blurb on Goodreads, it does just that, so I encourage you to NOT do that. I was so glad that I didn't look at that until I was more than halfway in and already knew some of the stuff that they spoilery share there. This is a book about Chinese culture in the early 1920's. This is a book about Chinese immigration, which was close to horrific. If this book doesn't make you think, you must be either heartless or dead [SEE the quote at the end of the review]. This is a book about what happens to orphan girls from China who have no families to protect them. It is about lies and how they grow even when you try to contain them. It is about trying to find and adapt and love a new life because it is the only one you have. And mostly, this is about a woman who has to become an instant mother and how that mother's love grows and grows and ends up protecting both her children and her husband. The narrator for this was very good and I enjoyed how she told the story very much. And I really did like this story very much. I do think it could have been about 5 chapters shorter [I found that I was drifting towards the end in wanting the details to get all tied up], but still, overall, this was a very good read. This was the quote at the beginning of the book - the next time you think that you might be having a rough day, think of these people in the past and all that they endured to have even a fraction of the life you currently have now. "I am satisfied the present Chinese labor invasion [it is not in any proper sense immigration - women and children do not come] is pernicious and should be discouraged. Our experience in dealing with the weaker races - the Negroes and Indians, for example - is not encouraging." US President Rutherford B. Hayes

  5. 4 out of 5

    Maya B

    Interesting but a very slow read in my opinion. I felt the characters needed a lot more depth. This is my least favorite read by this author

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jerilyn

    I loved this book! This book deserves all 5 Stars! I really enjoyed this book and could not put it down. A beautifully written story. Laila, you've got a winner with this one!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amie's Book Reviews

    With immigration currently being a hot button issue in the United States and many other countries around the world, the publication of this book could not be more timely. Although this story begins ninety years ago in 1923, there are many alarming similarities between the discrimination faced by immigrants during that time period and the discrimination faced by those who have chosen to emigrate to the United States in modern times. Mei Ling was happily living out her young life in China when the With immigration currently being a hot button issue in the United States and many other countries around the world, the publication of this book could not be more timely. Although this story begins ninety years ago in 1923, there are many alarming similarities between the discrimination faced by immigrants during that time period and the discrimination faced by those who have chosen to emigrate to the United States in modern times. Mei Ling was happily living out her young life in China when the matchmaker arrived at the door of her parent's home. A suitable match had been found for Mei Ling's older sister and the wedding date was set. But, as fate would have it, her sister fell ill and her parents told Mei Ling that she would have to take her sister's place. This deception early in the story is only one of many deceptions and 'white lies' that occur throughout the book. It is obvious that author Laila Ibrahim did her research for this book as the facts and traditions written about in this tale match perfectly with historic accounts from those who actually did leave China in hopes of a better life in the United States. Laila Ibrahim's writing style and subject matter reminds me of author Lisa See. http://www.lisasee.com I enjoyed the story even though I found one event to be completely implausible. Despite that, the author has written a book that anyone who wonders what life might have been like for the huge wave of Asian immigrants who arrived en masse in the years following World War I will want to read. I believe that by reading books such as PAPER WIFE, people will gain, at the very least, a small measure of empathy for people whose cultures and/or backgrounds are different from their own. Reading stories like this one, prove to readers that people are more similar than they are different. We all want the same thing. We want a safe and comfortable place to sleep, a good education for our children, and a job that allows us to provide for our families. In PAPER WIFE, Mei Ling was detained on Angel Island and interrogated by officials who used intimidation and threats to try to force her to change her story or to catch her in a lie. This is a true reflection of what immigrants were subjected to in 1925. We need to learn from the past. If we do not learn from our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them. I rate PAPER WIFE as 4 OUT OF 5 STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐ To read my full review and to read about more great books, visit my blog at http://Amiesbookreviews.wordpress.com Follow me on Instagram @Amiesbookreviews and on Twitter @Amiesbookreview

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joy

    This book is exactly what comes fo mind when historical fiction is mentioned. The time, place, and circumstances engage the mind while the characters and the challenges they face navigating that landscape capture the heart. There is quite a bit of cultural/historical content, but the book still flows smoothly and rather quickly. I read way past my bedtime night after night because I was so engrossed in Mei Ling’s story. This was my first Laila Ibrahim book, but I seriously doubt it will be my la This book is exactly what comes fo mind when historical fiction is mentioned. The time, place, and circumstances engage the mind while the characters and the challenges they face navigating that landscape capture the heart. There is quite a bit of cultural/historical content, but the book still flows smoothly and rather quickly. I read way past my bedtime night after night because I was so engrossed in Mei Ling’s story. This was my first Laila Ibrahim book, but I seriously doubt it will be my last.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Duke-Wyer

    Five stars all the way. Eighteen year old Mei Ling and her sister Jah Jeh are living in a village with their family. It is 1923 and times are hard as China rebounds from famine, war and disease. A matchmaker has been employed and a husband has been found for Jah Jeh who is destined to travel to California with her merchant husband and his orphaned son Bo. Unfortunately she is stricken with a fever and Mei Ling must take her place as the matchmaker will not refund her fee. Such is the desperation Five stars all the way. Eighteen year old Mei Ling and her sister Jah Jeh are living in a village with their family. It is 1923 and times are hard as China rebounds from famine, war and disease. A matchmaker has been employed and a husband has been found for Jah Jeh who is destined to travel to California with her merchant husband and his orphaned son Bo. Unfortunately she is stricken with a fever and Mei Ling must take her place as the matchmaker will not refund her fee. Such is the desperation of the family that they may never see their daughter again and she may provide much needed help from her new position. Mei Ling travels to Hong Kong with Kai Li and from there by boat to San Francisco. Mei Ling has assumed the identity of her sister to deceive Kai Li. On his part he explains to her that she must now assume the identity of his deceased wife to enable her to gain entry to the United States. She has become a ‘paper wife’ which necessitates her learning the correct answers to the questions that immigration will ask of her. This is a book about deceit, different cultures and the history of Chinese immigration to the USA. I loved it. I did not know the custom of ‘paper wives (husbands, children, etc.)’; I was aware of the racism that immigrants faced in the USA and the exploitation of those less fortunate – even by their own race, let alone the ‘white’ people. It is so beautifully written, almost lyrical and the characters – oh! Poor Mei Ling, stripped of her identity, trying to conform and be a good wife and mother; hiding her own ‘dragon’ nature under the guise of a rabbit personality. Who could she trust – her husband? He had already deceived her pretending to be a merchant when in fact he was a servant. She did not even have the luxury of confiding to her family as she did not want to worry them. What a winner Kai Li was – what a beautiful family. What a beautiful, beautiful book. It is fabulous. Read it and see. Thank you to the author, publishers and NetGalley for providing an ARC via my Kindle in return for an honest review.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Hedges

    Thank you to Netgalley for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review. This was a fascinating and beautiful read about a small part of American history that I knew nothing about. Meh Ling is a 'Paper Wife' forced into a marriage to a Gam San Haak - a Chinese man who lives in California. He needs a new wife to replace the one who died, leaving behind a small child. Meh Ling will lose her family, her country and her name to this new life but she has no choice, to refuse will bring shame Thank you to Netgalley for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review. This was a fascinating and beautiful read about a small part of American history that I knew nothing about. Meh Ling is a 'Paper Wife' forced into a marriage to a Gam San Haak - a Chinese man who lives in California. He needs a new wife to replace the one who died, leaving behind a small child. Meh Ling will lose her family, her country and her name to this new life but she has no choice, to refuse will bring shame to her family. So she embarks on a sea voyage from Hong Kong to California, making friends along the way and becoming a surragote mother to a orphaned 6 year old girl who's Uncle is bringing her to America for a new life. This tiny band of women and children provide love, friendship and strength to each other during the boat trip and subsequent internment at Angel Island, waiting to find out if American immigration will learn of their deceptions and send them home or allow them to 'be landed' and start anew in America. Later on choices are made to overcome disappointment and hardship and the ultimate sacrifice is made to protect those Meh Ling loves. I so enjoyed this novel. The rich history of Meh Ling's life in China and the life of immigrants in early twentieth century San Francisco was beautifully integrated into a tale of family dynamics and honor, love and friendship. Meh Ling was determined and resourceful and I found myself cheering for her all the way through. Ibrahim kept the pace moving in the novel, yet didn't skimp on the description of the area and the life they were living. The history was entwined with the plot so well, I got the sense she had almost lived there and experienced those things herself. A wonderful read about a small portion of California history that I will certainly be delving into more.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Hayley

    This book was really interesting and it started off with a bang. Our main character Mei Ling is growing up with her family in 1923. To try to make her life better in the future her parents arrange her marriage to a wealthy businessman from California. However there is one slight problem. The woman he came to meet originally has died so Mei Ling must take over her identity and become his "paper wife" in order to enter the United States. I loved the story because it isn't like anything I've ever r This book was really interesting and it started off with a bang. Our main character Mei Ling is growing up with her family in 1923. To try to make her life better in the future her parents arrange her marriage to a wealthy businessman from California. However there is one slight problem. The woman he came to meet originally has died so Mei Ling must take over her identity and become his "paper wife" in order to enter the United States. I loved the story because it isn't like anything I've ever read before, there was so much deceit from both sides both the wife and the husband that it was hard to see who, if anyone, was telling the truth to begin with. I found the story very compelling and I couldn't seem to put it down for any length of time before I had to pick it up again to see what was going to happen. I found the story moved very quickly but not in a rushed way. The characters were really interesting and even the bad ones that I didn't care for to much I loved the way that they were all written. I also felt really bad for Mei Ling because every turn she came across there was more deceit and she had to face new challenges that most people her age and of her culture would not have had to face otherwise. Very fascinating read and I'm glad that I got the chance to read it. This is one book that stays with you long after you finish reading it and I feel that it is also one that deserves to be read not just once but multiple times. For each time that it is read it will hit you with just as much power and passion as it did the first time.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Colette

    LOVED this! Need to read Yellow Crocus that so many of my reading buddies raved about. If you read this one, be sure to read all the way past the end past the acknowledgments because there are some very interesting historical points in the glossary. A character or two were actual people. THANK YOU to the publishers and to Goodreads for the giveaway. Thoroughly enjoyable read. 4 1/2 stars.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Touching ~ The book started off with a bang, very intriguing and familiar to some other books just like it. Towards the middle, the main character got a bit overbearing with her worrisome thoughts. It became challenging to deal with. However, the twist at the end saved the book for me. It was pleasantly unexpected.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    This is the story of immigrants from China in the 1920s. Well-written, well-researched. This was an enjoyable read! I'm looking forward to reading more from this author. Thank you to Laila Ibrahim, Lake Union Publishing and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    Three and a half stars. I was caught up in Mei Ling's journey from rural China to the Bay area, the obstacles she faced and how she ultimately overcome them. I would read more books by the author.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Donna J

    Just okay..not as great as I had wished I read & listened to ‘Paper Wife’ because I adore every book from Laila Ibrahim! Yet I couldn’t help but feel I was reading “Shanghai Girls” another author, yet about 10 hours less and less details. It was so close to the same story line, but different time..matchmaker involved in lives & the Chinese girl being sent to Angel Island in San Francisco to the same husband type..always say they have money but have none..and a pregnancy. The difference h Just okay..not as great as I had wished I read & listened to ‘Paper Wife’ because I adore every book from Laila Ibrahim! Yet I couldn’t help but feel I was reading “Shanghai Girls” another author, yet about 10 hours less and less details. It was so close to the same story line, but different time..matchmaker involved in lives & the Chinese girl being sent to Angel Island in San Francisco to the same husband type..always say they have money but have none..and a pregnancy. The difference here was the character didn’t live with the husbands family and at the end, without giving any info, Mai Lee was different than other stereotype Chinese girls. I don’t want to be petty, really. I liked this book and of course the other book was during WWII and ‘Paper Wife’ was in the early 1920’s. Laila Lbrahim is an excellent author, but there just didn’t seem to have enough originality. Every Chinese or Japanese book just seems to always take the same path. Listening was great! When Mai Li, the Chinese girl who left home to what she thought was a rich husband didn’t understand English...the narrator used words that sounded like “babbling” to let us understand that English sounded like that to someone not knowing English. Plus she had a great way of making characters sound unique. I also didn’t like the very quick ending! All of a sudden someone (no spoilers) who was “using” a child for something...was “gone” it didn’t even last 2 chapters? As I’m writing this I’m listening to the last 15 minutes & now Epilogue...wishing & hoping something will make me love it, but unfortunately, I’m sorry, I just didn’t love it. But you readers & listeners are the reviewers so I’m sure everyone will give a different review & I’m anxious to hear other readers reviews as well. I definitely recommend it but not enthusiastic as I was with her other books. 3 stars for story

  17. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    got through 50 percent....and was so bored I couldnt continue :( I wanted so badly to like this book, as I loved LOVED Yellow Crocus. This just fell flat for me, to the point that I could not go on.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Interesting but very unrealistic. Kind of disappointing

  19. 5 out of 5

    Laura Hill

    Thanks to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for an advance reader copy in exchange for my honest opinion. Book to be released on Oct. 30, 2018. Writing: 3/5 Characters: 4.5/5 Plot: 4/5 A gripping, and ultimately uplifting, tale highlighting a piece of American immigrant history. The date is 1923 and Mei Ling is an 18-year old girl in Guangdong Province whose family fortune has suffered “the triple devastation of war, famine, and disease.” With little warning, she finds herself a “paper wife” — m Thanks to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for an advance reader copy in exchange for my honest opinion. Book to be released on Oct. 30, 2018. Writing: 3/5 Characters: 4.5/5 Plot: 4/5 A gripping, and ultimately uplifting, tale highlighting a piece of American immigrant history. The date is 1923 and Mei Ling is an 18-year old girl in Guangdong Province whose family fortune has suffered “the triple devastation of war, famine, and disease.” With little warning, she finds herself a “paper wife” — married to a stranger (and mother to a two-year old named Bo) under the false name of his recently deceased wife in order to enter America. Her true identity is buried under a second layer — her elder sister was the intended bride, but a last minute illness forced the substitution. Mei Ling must keep this quiet as her husband is expecting a timid Rabbit wife and is instead receiving a fierce Dragon. The story follows Mei Ling through her wedding, the trip in steerage to San Francisco, her new family, including a six-year old orphan named Siew whom she meets on the boat, and immigration through Angel Island. Beautiful and detailed descriptions of San Francisco and Oakland Chinatowns, the people she meets, the lives they lead, and the way different people try to succeed in the new country. I love that each of the characters (even the unpleasant ones) has real depth — the author did not resort to stereotypes in this fictionalized account of a Chinese immigrant experience. The story takes some surprising turns as Mei Ling the Dragon takes steps to maintain harmony and protect her family. As a way of setting the context, the book’s epigraph comprises a single disturbing quote from then President Rutherford B. Hayes: “I am satisfied the present Chinese labor invasion (it is not in any proper sense immigration — women and children do not come) is pernicious and should be discouraged. Our experience in dealing with the weaker races — the negroes and the Indians, for example — is not encouraging.” Ugh.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Originally posted on AuthorSarahStubbs.com I haven’t read very many (if any at all) historical fiction books centered around Asian culture, so Paper Wife was very alluring. The story starts in the early 1920’s and is rich in historical detail – both Chinese and American. If you’ve never heard of paper wives (I hadn’t either until I read this book) and you’re a history nerd like me, you should do a quick Google search. It’s pretty interesting stuff. Mei Ling, the feisty main character, is thrust in Originally posted on AuthorSarahStubbs.com I haven’t read very many (if any at all) historical fiction books centered around Asian culture, so Paper Wife was very alluring. The story starts in the early 1920’s and is rich in historical detail – both Chinese and American. If you’ve never heard of paper wives (I hadn’t either until I read this book) and you’re a history nerd like me, you should do a quick Google search. It’s pretty interesting stuff. Mei Ling, the feisty main character, is thrust into a marriage that she neither wants nor chooses and finds herself on the way to America as a paper wife. She’s not being honest about her identity with her new husband and before long she realizes he’s not being honest with her either, which sort of sets the foundation for Mei Ling’s internal conflict. Aside from that, there were plenty of subplots to keep the story moving right along and quite a few secondary characters that accompanied them. Some of the subplots were a little harder to believe than others, not because they couldn’t happen but because by the third or fourth unusual thing it seemed like the main characters had the worst luck in the world! Overall I think they did add to the story, though, and also furthered my understanding of the Chinese experience in the 1920’s. What impressed me the most about this book was the extraordinary amount of research that must have gone into it. Just the research Ibrahim would’ve had to do for the small portion of the book that actually took place in China is staggering. Add to that the research for immigrant experiences on the ship over, detention before being admitted to the country, and daily life in California for a Chinese immigrant in the 1920’s…. phew. That’s a lot of work! I also loved the way the author used ‘——‘ when Mei Ling was around someone speaking English. It’s so nice to have an author acknowledge that a MC that doesn’t speak the language they’re listening to wouldn’t understand what’s going on! ARC provided in exchange for an honest review.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Thanks to Netgalley who gave me a free book in exchange for the below review (I was not required to give a positive review). In 1923, Mei Ling's older sister falls gravely ill a few days before her arranged marriage to a man she has never met.  Mei Ling is forced to take her's sister place.  Leaving her family in China, Mei Ling travels to America.  In order to enter the country, Mei Ling must assume the identity of the man's deceased wife, essentially using her immigration documents as her own ( Thanks to Netgalley who gave me a free book in exchange for the below review (I was not required to give a positive review). In 1923, Mei Ling's older sister falls gravely ill a few days before her arranged marriage to a man she has never met.  Mei Ling is forced to take her's sister place.  Leaving her family in China, Mei Ling travels to America.  In order to enter the country, Mei Ling must assume the identity of the man's deceased wife, essentially using her immigration documents as her own (a "Paper Wife"). When Mei Ling befriends a young orphan girl on the ship to America, little did she know that she was creating a bond for life.  When it is Mei Ling's turn to leave Angel Island (the unfriendly place where immigrants were housed until their entry application was approved) she is forced to leave Siew behind.  Making good on her promise to see Siew again, Mei Ling searches for the child to ensure that she is safe, only to find that Siew's Uncle wasn't who he appeared to be, and that Siew herself was a paper child.  This dark revelation has a damaging impact on Mei Ling and her family, who must fight to overcome the reality of Siew's situation. This heart warming book chronicles the struggles of a family, living in a foreign and sometimes hostile land, forced together by tradition, who, against all odds, forge a lasting love built on strong foundations of respect and honesty.  Although at the beginning, their paper selves were brought together by a match-maker's lies, against all odds their bond overcomes this deception and they find that their true selves are a perfect match after all.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    I really enjoy this authors writing style, she brings the characters to light, in a way that makes you have a clear picture as to how you feel about each one. In all of the stories I have read about China, I do not remember reading about, Paper wives or (son, daughters). A fascinating way for people to get into the country with fraudulent papers. This started in response to war and famine in China, the Chinese exclusion act and the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. The book starts off in China, in I really enjoy this authors writing style, she brings the characters to light, in a way that makes you have a clear picture as to how you feel about each one. In all of the stories I have read about China, I do not remember reading about, Paper wives or (son, daughters). A fascinating way for people to get into the country with fraudulent papers. This started in response to war and famine in China, the Chinese exclusion act and the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. The book starts off in China, in a small village where an eldest daughter is sought by an unknown suitor to be his wife, through a matchmaker. He is Chinese as well, with a son, but is a resident of California. To be able to get into the USA with him, she must take on the identity of his dead wife.(thus a paper wife) With a few changes and a few white lies, she sets out to meet her husband and child to be, and set off on a long journey by sea to her new home. Men and women are separated and the conditions are not very good. On this voyage, she meets some people who will be her friends at the end of the journey and very dear to her. Wonderful characters, and I love seeing how each of them, evolved, given the very different circumstances, they have had to get used to. I won't give a lot of details as I believe that is part of the fun you will have as you read it. This author also wrote Yellow Crocus and it's sequel Mustard Seed which I loved. I would like to thank NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for the ARC of this book.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    This book was just ok in my opinion. Although I liked how the history of the paper wives, sons, and daughters was placed in the story I expected it to be a bigger part of the story line. The author frequently mentions the fact that Mei Ling is a paper wife, however I didn't feel like that added anything to what I considered an already weak and all over the road story line. So let's talk about the plot. The reason why I say this story was just ok is because, this for me, is the typical plot rec This book was just ok in my opinion. Although I liked how the history of the paper wives, sons, and daughters was placed in the story I expected it to be a bigger part of the story line. The author frequently mentions the fact that Mei Ling is a paper wife, however I didn't feel like that added anything to what I considered an already weak and all over the road story line. So let's talk about the plot. The reason why I say this story was just ok is because, this for me, is the typical plot recipe of strong willed woman who gets thrown into a life she didn't really choose and yet everything magically works out perfectly. I simply can't stand story lines like that it's not real, now I realize that the whole story is not real and it's just a work of fiction but unless I'm reading fantasy fiction I do sort of expect some realism in the fiction I read. The plot was also all over the place, too many sub story lines and non of them developed as well as they could have been. The same could also be said for the characters even Mei Ling's character was under developed in my opinion. I'm not saying this was a horrible book, it was just simply ok. I don't think I would read it more than once, and definitely wouldn't pick it for my book club. It had the promise of being an excellent story. I appreciated the historical references of the paper people and Angel Island. I just wished the author would have developed the characters and the plot more fully.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Annette

    Thank you Laila Ibrahim and Lake Union Publishing for the ebook which I won in a Goodreads Giveaway. This book is a mesmerizing. Back in the 1920’s Chinese parents who had daughters of marrying age would hire matchmaker for a fee to find a husband which would increase their chances of a fortuitous marriage. The hired matchmaker found a recent Chinese widower with a two year old son visiting from California. Jah Jeh is the oldest daughter ended up sick the day the match was to take place, her sist Thank you Laila Ibrahim and Lake Union Publishing for the ebook which I won in a Goodreads Giveaway. This book is a mesmerizing. Back in the 1920’s Chinese parents who had daughters of marrying age would hire matchmaker for a fee to find a husband which would increase their chances of a fortuitous marriage. The hired matchmaker found a recent Chinese widower with a two year old son visiting from California. Jah Jeh is the oldest daughter ended up sick the day the match was to take place, her sister Mei Ling must take her place so her parents don’t lose their money paid to the matchmaker. The matchmaker tells the parents Mei Ling is taking on the issue of becoming a Paper Wife, she would have to take on the identity of a widow’s wife to officially become someone else to live in California. So the journey begins with Mei Ling leaving her parents to meet her new husband Chinn Kai Li, they will get married in two days, travel to Hong Kong to board a ship to go to San Francisco. On the ship the men are separated from their wives and children. Mei Ling gets the time to bond with Kai Li’’s son. Along the journey on the ship Mei Ling meets a little Chinese girl named Siew and becomes close to her. Mei Ling works to make a loving fulfilling marriage that has obstacles along the way. I’m stopping here because I don’t want to give away all of the story. A beautiful read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    PAPER WIFE by Laila Ibrahim Mei Ling is the younger daughter in a newly impoverished family. When her sister is betrothed to a complete stranger, Mei is happy it is not her and unhappy to see her sister leving China for the United States. Very quickly, everything changes when Mei Ling’s sister becomes ill and Mei Ling is forced to impersonate her sister and marry the stranger. Well written and researched, this novel tells of “wives,” “daughters,” “sons and cousins” paid for and brought to the US a PAPER WIFE by Laila Ibrahim Mei Ling is the younger daughter in a newly impoverished family. When her sister is betrothed to a complete stranger, Mei is happy it is not her and unhappy to see her sister leving China for the United States. Very quickly, everything changes when Mei Ling’s sister becomes ill and Mei Ling is forced to impersonate her sister and marry the stranger. Well written and researched, this novel tells of “wives,” “daughters,” “sons and cousins” paid for and brought to the US as “paper relatives” in the early 1920’s. It has become impossible to emigrate to the US and China is suffering greatly. This subterfuge to bring impoverished Chinese to the US often results in prostitution and servitude. Mei Lings fears are not unfounded. Ibrahim has written an engrossing tale of one such “paper wife.” Her characters are clearly drawn, the sights, smells and inhabitants of San Francisco’s Chinatown are related in intimate detail. A mesmerizing tale that book groups will love. 5 of 5 stars

  26. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and thought it looked interesting. I love historical fiction but I think this particular novel fell a bit short on providing the reader with an adequate amount of historical facts. While the author did research the topic and did provide many sources for the reader to do more investigating she did not expand upon the topic as thoroughly as I would have liked. The topic of paper wives is very interesting and when you try to put yourself in those shoes it is I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and thought it looked interesting. I love historical fiction but I think this particular novel fell a bit short on providing the reader with an adequate amount of historical facts. While the author did research the topic and did provide many sources for the reader to do more investigating she did not expand upon the topic as thoroughly as I would have liked. The topic of paper wives is very interesting and when you try to put yourself in those shoes it is almost unimaginable. This character shows enormous resourcefulness and courage. Her time on Angel Island while not well detailed does give a perspective to the reader beyond the often told story of entry to America though Ellis Island. The beautiful and often tragic poetry left behind by inhabitants of Angel Island is touched on in this novel but not nearly enough information is given for the reader to be able to understand and appreciate it. My advice to future readers is to take the time to follow-up the reading of this novel with a bit more research on your own.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Annette Jordan

    A beautiful and moving book about a young woman forced to hide her identity and become a " paper wife" in order to move to the United States following an arranged marriage in China in 1923. Mei Ling is brave and resourceful and despite misgivings about assuming the identity of a dead woman, she knows it is the only way she will be able to move to America with her new husband. On the arduous sea voyage she not only learns that she is pregnant, but also must take care of her husband's young son fr A beautiful and moving book about a young woman forced to hide her identity and become a " paper wife" in order to move to the United States following an arranged marriage in China in 1923. Mei Ling is brave and resourceful and despite misgivings about assuming the identity of a dead woman, she knows it is the only way she will be able to move to America with her new husband. On the arduous sea voyage she not only learns that she is pregnant, but also must take care of her husband's young son from his previous marriage. Despite this she also finds herself taking care of Siew, a young girl separated from her Uncle for the long sea journey. When they eventually arrive in San Francisco, she must pass the immigration tests before she can be reunited with her husband. Despite a rough start, and her new life being much harder than she had been led to believe., her marriage is largely happy, the only shadow is her fears for Siew, who may be forced into prostitution to repay a debt that is not even her own. Full of wonderful characters and vividly descriptive , this beautiful book held my interest from the very first page. I became invested in Mei Ling and her various struggles , and loved seeing her transformation from a hesitant and reluctant paper wife to a fulfilled and happy wife and mother, with friends and even her own business. The growth and development of her character is the real hear of this very enjoyable book. I read an reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Coleen

    The immigration issues were well researched and timely. I had not known that certain nationalities or ethnic groups were detained. The story progressed linearly, similar to a journal. The substitution of dashes (-) for English words Mei Ling did not understand was very clever. It put the reader in Mei Ling's shoes, knowing that she was missing something. As Mei Ling's command of English improved, the reader could parse the dashes based on context, not unlike Mei Ling would. [Spoilers] I was disap The immigration issues were well researched and timely. I had not known that certain nationalities or ethnic groups were detained. The story progressed linearly, similar to a journal. The substitution of dashes (-) for English words Mei Ling did not understand was very clever. It put the reader in Mei Ling's shoes, knowing that she was missing something. As Mei Ling's command of English improved, the reader could parse the dashes based on context, not unlike Mei Ling would. [Spoilers] I was disappointed that Kai Li's character was not more fully developed. Knowing more of his history and how it shaped him would have been helpful. Also, it seemed that each time Mei Ling feared a specific traditional reaction from him, he tended to respond as someone from this century. Note: I received this book for free thanks to a GoodReads e-book giveaway.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Grieve

    An interesting and well-written look into the lives of Chinese immigrants to the USA in the 1920s. Mei LIng, the main character, has to take her sister's place when the village matchmaker arranges a marriage with a widower who is travelling back to the USA. She will be his 'paper wife', that is, for immigration purposes will pose as his dead wife rather than try to obtain new travel documents. This was apparently a common practice at the time. The story covers their journey to San Francisco and An interesting and well-written look into the lives of Chinese immigrants to the USA in the 1920s. Mei LIng, the main character, has to take her sister's place when the village matchmaker arranges a marriage with a widower who is travelling back to the USA. She will be his 'paper wife', that is, for immigration purposes will pose as his dead wife rather than try to obtain new travel documents. This was apparently a common practice at the time. The story covers their journey to San Francisco and subsequent struggles to earn a living. The historical detail was good, and I enjoyed the story's progression to 1939 where it ends. Thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rachael

    This is another book I would give more stars to if I could. I absolutely loved Mei Ling and Kai Li and the family they created. The lengths they both went to to protect an orphan and to keep their family safe and whole were incredible. I have read a handful of novels that focused on Chinese immigrants during the early-mid 1900s. Only a couple of those mentioned 'paper relatives' and Angel Island. This novel was by far the most thorough in discussing both in-depth, and the author did it in such a This is another book I would give more stars to if I could. I absolutely loved Mei Ling and Kai Li and the family they created. The lengths they both went to to protect an orphan and to keep their family safe and whole were incredible. I have read a handful of novels that focused on Chinese immigrants during the early-mid 1900s. Only a couple of those mentioned 'paper relatives' and Angel Island. This novel was by far the most thorough in discussing both in-depth, and the author did it in such a way that I didn't feel like it was just filler-she wove the information into the story. *ARC from netgalley

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