Friday, 16 August 2013

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

I talked about Jamie Ford's first novel; Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet here on my blog back in June 2011.  Reading back through my review, I see that I used words such as 'masterpiece' and 'beautiful' - I still feel that way about the story, it's a book that has stayed with me for 2 years, and one that I recommend to anyone that I meet.

When my review copy of Songs of Willow Frost arrived, I felt a mixture of emotions; excitement that at last Jamie Ford has written another book, and a touch of nervousness in case I felt let down.  How on earth would he match the first one?

I have spent the last few days totally immersed in the world of Willow and William, the two main characters in this extraordinary story, and now I have finished reading, I feel a little like I did when I finished his first novel - a sense of loss that the characters are no longer part of my day, but also a sense of complete satisfaction - this really is a novel to savour and enjoy.

The story is set in Seattle in the 1920s and the era of Depression.  William Eng is a Chinese-American boy who has spent the last five years in the Sacred Heart Orphanage. It is 1934 and life is not easy at Sacred Heart, poor food, lots of chores and no love, coupled with the fact that many of the children are not in fact, orphans, but have been left in the care of the Nuns with the promise from their parents that one day they will come back.  It is this promise that gives the children hope, but not William.   He has not heard from his Mother since the day he entered the Orphanage, and has no idea why she went away, or if she will ever return.   A rare treat is arranged, and the boys from Sacred Heart are taken on a trip to the movies.  When William spots up-and-coming movie star Willow Frost on the big screen, he is convinced that she is is Mother.  He is determined that he will find her and find out why he abandoned.

The story moves back to 1924 where the young Liu Song is living with her ailing mother and her cruel stepfather.    As tragedy and disaster follow Liu Song around, she has to grow and mature quickly, and eventually she develops into her alter-ego Willow Frost.

Songs of Willow Frost is a story that will engross the reader, it is absolutely compelling, with characterisation that will stun and a sense of place that evokes the sounds, the smells and at times, the despair of Seattle and it's inhabitants during the harsh Depression years.  

Jamie Ford has drawn on his own Chinese-American heritage, it is clear that he has done some meticulous research, but his sense of ownership of these characters and their story shines through.   His writing allows the reader to live and breathe each character.     These times were brutal and often very cruel, especially if you were of Chinese heritage, even if you were born in America, if you were a woman, then things were even harder.   Willow's story is at times heartbreaking, unfair and desperately cruel, but it is the hope and determination of William that really shines through - a small boy whose faith in love pulls his mother back from the brink.

I feel that I've 'gushed' when writing this review, but I really did love every word of Songs of Willow Frost. I'd hoped for second novel that would live up to the excellence of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet and that's exactly what I got - and more.

I have to say a huge thank you to Lesley and Chiara from Allison & Busby who sent my copy for review.

Songs of Willow Frost will be published here in the UK by Allison & Busby in hardback on 10 September 2013.

Jamie Ford is the great-garndson of pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated from China to San Francisco in, like his page on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter
1865, where he adopted the Western name 'Ford'.  Jamie lives in Montana.   For more information, please visit his website at

1 comment:

  1. Any gushing fully justified about this one - I think I might well have gushed in my review too, but I'm so glad you enjoyed it as much as I did!