The Celestials: A Novel (Paperback)
The Celestials by Karen Shepard. Nearly forgotten from Massachusetts history is the story of 75 young Chinese laborers who were contracted in 1870 by Calvin Sampson the owner of a shoe factory in North Adams. Karen Shepard, with scant historical records, brilliantly fictionalizes their lives in this alien environment. Unbeknownst to the young Chinese workers, they are brought in as strikebreakers. Only the 22-year-old Chinese foreman speaks English. Shepard skillfully examines the interactions of people from vastly different cultures. This is not only a historical novel, but it also reveals themes that are relevant today— From Joan's Picks
The Celestials is a historical novel of immigration, multiculturalism, labor, community and exclusion, alienation and reinvention, and our country's peculiar history and relationship with all those things. It's about our shared sense that we're all aliens of some kind--at home in no place.
In June of 1870, seventy-five Chinese laborers arrived in North Adams, Massachusetts, to work for Calvin Sampson, one of the biggest industrialists in that busy factory town. Except for the foreman, the Chinese didn’t speak English. They didn’t know they were strikebreakers. The eldest of them was twenty-two. Combining historical and fictional elements, The Celestials beautifully reimagines the story of Sampson’s “Chinese experiment” and the effect of the newcomers’ threatening and exotic presence on the New England locals. When Sampson’s wife, Julia, gives birth to a mixed-race baby, the infant becomes a lightning rod for the novel’s conflicts concerning identity, alienation, and exile.
About the Author
Karen Shepard is a Chinese-American born and raised in New York City. She is the author of three novels, An Empire of Women, The Bad Boy’s Wife, and Don’t I Know You? Her short fiction has been published in the Atlantic Monthly, Tin House, and Ploughshares, and her nonfiction has appeared in More, Self, USA Today, and the Boston Globe. She teaches writing and literature at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where she lives.
What a riveting, wonderfully intelligent novel! Karen Shepard’s characters vibrate with desire and disappointment, so obdurately individual that a whole world springs to life around them and the past becomes completely present.”
--Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever and The Air We Breathe