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Reviewed by Frances Deborah Kerr-Phillips for Readers' Favorite
China Grade: A novel about the Transcontinental Railroad by Wong Yue is a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of those involved in the construction of the Central Pacific Railway in the US in the 1860s. Yue has woven an engrossing story around real events. Chen is recruited from his war-torn village in Guandong, China, to work on the railroad - saving his family and village from insurgents by doing this. Thousands of miles away in a Cornish tin-mining village, Lowen and Rozen Trestain decide to seek a better life in America with their young son, Gorran. Lowen and Chen both find employment with the Central Pacific Railroad Company. As skilled and forthright individuals, they become firm friends, despite the prejudices of the time, facing incredible physical and mental hardships as the railroad inches ever westward.
Wong Yue propels the reader through his novel by keeping one on tenterhooks as to what is going to happen next: I would often read further than I had intended. The chapter titles – generally only a single word - contribute to this feeling of curiosity in the reader. It is clear that Yue conducted extensive research and I was fascinated by the history underlying the novel: be it the actual construction of the railroad, the dangers therein, the prejudices and racial and social tensions, or the political need for the project to succeed. For anyone with an interest in US history or simply a desire for a rip-roaring story, Yue’s China Grade is a must.