EXCERPT: "Songs of Willow Frost,” by Jamie Ford

  • Updated: September 14, 2013 - 2:00 PM

Jamie Ford. Copyright Laurence Kim.

Jamie Ford’s first novel, “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” was a surprise New York Times bestseller. His second book, “Songs of Willow Frost,” is the story of a Chinese-American orphan in Seattle during the Great Depression.

Ford will read and sign books at 7 p.m. Oct. 3 at the Bookcase of Wayzata. Here’s how the new book begins:

William Eng woke to the sound of a snapping leather belt and the shrieking of rusty springs that supported the threadbare mattress of his army surplus bed. He kept his eyes closed as he listened to the bare feet of children, shuffling nervously on the cold wooden floor. He heard the popping and billowing of sheets being pulled back, like trade winds filling a canvas sail. And so he drifted, on the favoring currents of his imagination, as he always did, to someplace else — anywhere but the Sacred Heart Orphanage, where the sisters inspected the linens every morning and began whipping the bed wetters.

He would have sat up if he could, stood at attention at the foot of his bunk, like the others, but his hands were tied — literally — to the bed frame.

“I told you it would work,” Sister Briganti said to a pair of orderlies whose dark skin looked even darker against their starched white uniforms.

Sister Briganti’s theory was that bed-wetting was caused by boys illicitly touching themselves. So at bedtime she began tying the boys’ shoes to their wrists. When that failed, she tied their wrists to their beds.

“It’s a miracle,” she said as she poked and prodded the dry sheets between William’s legs. He watched as she crossed herself, then paused, sniffing her fingers, as though seeking evidence her eyes and hands might not reveal. Amen, William thought when he realized his bedding was dry. He knew that, like an orphaned child, Sister Briganti had learned to expect the worst. And she was rarely, if ever, disappointed.

Excerpted from “Songs of Willow Frost,” by Jamie Ford, © 2013 by Jamie Ford. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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