Book Review: Snakehead by Patrick Radden Keefe

A new book, The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream, by Patrick Radden Keefe, revisits the arrival of the Golden Venture in New York and examines the history of illegal immigration into the U.S. from China. From a review in the Mercury News:

Keefe looks at the history of Chinese immigration to America and how in the 1980s and early 1990s lucrative smuggling rings — the snakehead trade — brought thousands of illegal immigrants to the U.S. Many came from China’s Fujian province, and almost all were deeply indebted to those who paid their passage.

He also takes a serious look at U.S. immigration policy and enforcement, including the government’s willingness to grant asylum to just about anyone arriving from China in the years following Tiananmen Square.

[…]One strength of Keefe’s story is its cast of characters, ranging from committed law enforcement types, those involved in the snakehead trade and those who straddled both worlds, like the drug-smuggling informant known as “The Fat Man.”

Most especially there’s Sister Ping, a revered figure in Chinatown for her role in moving so many thousands from China to America. Working out of a nondescript noodle shop, she amasses great wealth and influence. But for her minor role in the Golden Venture saga, she’s placed on trial and sentenced in 2006 — an episode Keefe uses to close the book.

Read also a long profile of Sister Ping that Keefe wrote for the New Yorker in 2006. Slate also hosted an extended exchange between Keefe ad sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh about the book.

Listen to an interview with Keefe on Fresh Air. The NPR site also posted an excerpt of his book.


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