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Paper Wife

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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 jou 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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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 jou 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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lyn

    Audio 5 stars! Story 5 stars!

  2. 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.

  3. 5 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☆

  4. 5 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

  5. 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.

  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

    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

  8. 5 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

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    4.25/5 stars I really enjoyed "Paper Wife." This novel provides such realistic, or what I think is realistic, insight and emotion into what it was like to be what is termed a "paper wife." A paper wife, or paper son, daughter, etc., is someone who is essentially sold by their family to a husband, or another family. In this novel, you meet a young woman who is sold to be married. She does not meet her husband until she has just married him. They end up travelling from southern China to the United 4.25/5 stars I really enjoyed "Paper Wife." This novel provides such realistic, or what I think is realistic, insight and emotion into what it was like to be what is termed a "paper wife." A paper wife, or paper son, daughter, etc., is someone who is essentially sold by their family to a husband, or another family. In this novel, you meet a young woman who is sold to be married. She does not meet her husband until she has just married him. They end up travelling from southern China to the United States, where they build their lives together. What I thought was really refreshing in this novel was the amount of lies which were originally told to make this marriage happen, and not just on one side. I also really enjoyed seeing how their relationship changed so much over the course of the next few years. Another really interesting aspect of this book was learning how Chinese immigrants lived and survived back in the 1920s, when this novel takes place. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be in such a foreign place, with a foreign, to you, man, which you have just married. I really loved the main character's character, and how much her character evolves over the course of the novel. I thought it was also refreshing to see the relationship between husband and wife evolve given the circumstances of their marriage. I'm remaining vague with names because there is something which happens, which I didn't see coming, at the beginning of the novel, and it would definitely be a spoiler. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed "Paper Wife." There were a few times I teared up, even. Great read, and would highly recommend if you enjoy Asian fiction.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lilly Minasyan

    Wow. What a beautiful novel this was! I couldn’t stop listening to the story, I needed to know the ending, how it will end. Don’t want to spoil this book for anyone, but if you come across to this book, definitely read it! I am so confident that people would love this story!

  11. 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.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lesley

    very facinating story

  13. 5 out of 5

    Toni

    Picked this up because Nancy Wu is one of my favorite narrators…BUT DNF- I can’t deal with how this author makes her historical characters have contemporary ideas, values, morals, and other traits. In this book, a rural country teen girl of Chinese descendent (brand new Communist China no less) emigrates to the USA in the early 1900s and her inner voice, her education, and her world views are comparable to a modern woman. Not buying the malarkey…. The concept is great & the story interesting ( Picked this up because Nancy Wu is one of my favorite narrators…BUT DNF- I can’t deal with how this author makes her historical characters have contemporary ideas, values, morals, and other traits. In this book, a rural country teen girl of Chinese descendent (brand new Communist China no less) emigrates to the USA in the early 1900s and her inner voice, her education, and her world views are comparable to a modern woman. Not buying the malarkey…. The concept is great & the story interesting (the true immigration history bits) but sadly, this is my last attempt to read this author works. Too fluffy. In my opinion, her style may work for kids/teens, who don’t weigh too much on nuances/accuracy, as a gateway book to upper-level reading.

  14. 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.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Julie Moffett

    I throughly enjoyed this book! I found it exceptionally well written, and the topic of Chinese immigration to San Francisco was fascinating. The characters were well-drawn and realistic. Bravo to the author for an interesting, gritty and engaging story. Highly recommended!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Interesting but very unrealistic. Kind of disappointing

  17. 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.

  18. 4 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.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dottie Resnick

    Novel about Chinese immigrants in the early 1900's. As a paper wife Mei Ling immigrates to America with a man she only recently married. They both have secrets and lies, yet become a strong couple raising a family in a foreign country. There are so many lessons to be learned and absorbed by reading about other cultures and the trials, determination and strength people throughout the world have, to succeed and thrive.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    I've been a fan of Laila Ibrahim for several years when I read "Yellow Crocus" and just recently read/listened to "The Mustard Seed". The aforementioned books are a duology taking place before, during and after the American Civil War. Paper Wife is a totally different book. It involves around the Chinese immigrant experience in the 1920s. I so enjoyed this book, but there's something that made it not quite 5 stars. I feel it is 4.25 or 4.5 stars and being brought down to 4 stars on Goodreads.

  21. 4 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 5 out of 5

    PeppyKC

    What a fantastic novel. So beautifully written and heartwarming. Not to mention a satisfying ending. It also fit with my decision to read more about cultures that I’m not so familiar with. This was a great little feel of Chinese culture and the traditions related to marriage and migration of wives to the US.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mary Ann

    This is a simple, book without nuance in its language, plot, and characters-quite predictable. It might be okay for young teens who have never read anything about Chinese immigration and settlement in the U.S. Glad this was a Kindle freebie.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Natasha Gill

    I'm a fan of this author's work but I had a hard time getting into this novel until I reached about halfway through it. It moved slowly and I think it spent too much time on a certain part that was depressing and unpleasant. There were some high points in the book but they were few and far apart. I also felt a certain distance from the main character and I'm not sure why. All in all I found the book interesting and the end redeemed it, but I didn't love it

  26. 5 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.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Abbysphoto

    Very interesting story line...well written

  28. 5 out of 5

    Karen Raskin

    Easy to read historical fiction portraying Chinese immigrants to California in the 1920’s. Maybe the writing was too simple, but still an enjoyable read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Miriam

    Amazing book!!! This one is going to stay with me for a good while. 5 stars audio 5 amazing stars story

  30. 4 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.

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