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'Love And Other Consolation Prizes' With Jamie Ford

Set against a rich backdrop of post-Victorian vice, suffrage, and celebration, "Love and Other Consolation Prizes" is an unforgettable story about the power of friendship, love and devotion in a world where everything and everyone is for sale.

The following highlights are from a conversation with Jamie Ford about his book, "Love and Other Consolation Prizes." To hear the entire conversation, click the link above or subscribe to our podcast.

Sarah Aronson: A love triangle develops in Ernest’s young life and it presents as a rather workable scenario—that a young boy could have two loves and there wouldn’t be total catastrophe. Is this every man’s dream? To fall to two women at once?

Jamie Ford: I don’t know that it’s every man’s dream, but it’s probably every man’s reality at some point in his life. I think the heart is a muscle that’s always in perpetual conflict. . .  We have moments when our hearts are torn in two different directions, but I do think it is possible to love two people equally and there’s no vanity in that if they're both sensational, important people to you. I say this as a young boy who once had a crush on a set of twins. So I know how this goes. . . It did not work out in my favor, but I know how that feels.

For what is love a consolation prize?

For some people love is this all-consuming madness, for other people it’s perhaps something shallow and trivial. Maybe a history with someone and years spent together—that companionship—is more resonant. If you look at the construct of love you can probably parse it a couple different ways. In my story, it’s really a mother’s love for her child and she sacrifices herself to send Ernest to this country. For much of the story that’s the lingering ghost, that’s the greater love. And then he ends up in a brothel where this artificial love is thrown about with currency. For him the real consolation prize are the friendships he has with people that are sincere and based on things other than physicality.

Is abandonment a theme in your work?

Yes. . . That’s the joke with my wife. If I ever had my own line a cologne, it would be a cracked bottle and it would be called “Abandonment.”

What would it smell like?

It would probably smell like flowers at a funeral arrangement or something like that. It would be something very sad. You know my second book, "Songs of Willow Frost," was dedicated to my mom, who I was super close to but lost too early. Even as a devoted mother she had some profound flaws and so to say I have abandonment issues is the understatement of the century. I think a lot of what I write about are people searching for their place in the world when the guardrails and training wheels have been kicked off.


Why do we need love stories?

I think in the abstract it’s part of our biology, it’s unavoidable. But I think, especially now when everything is commodified. It’s Tinder, you know, “swipe left, swipe right,” everything’s very shallow and superficial and I think love stories are more important now when relationships are  . . . lacking depth or substance or people being reduced to their Twitter avatar. I think that real connectivity . . . it’s not just important, it’s missing from a lot of our lives. . .

About the Book: 

When Jamie Ford found an old article in the Seattle Times about a baby who was given away as a prize at the Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exposition of 1909 (Seattle’s forgotten World’s Fair), he was instantly hooked. Did anyone claim this baby? Do we know what happened to him? A self-proclaimed fan of the unknown with a “never-ending appetite for lost history,” Ford knew this was the book he had to write.

"Love and Other Consolation Prizes" is the story of a young boy named Ernest, a half-Chinese orphan who finds his way to America through a last desperate act of his beloved mother. A charity student at a boarding school, he has never really had a place to call home. One day, his wealthy sponsor announces that he will be offered as a prize in the daily raffle at Seattle’s World’s Fair, advertised as "Healthy boy to a good home for the winning ticket holder." The woman who "wins" Ernest is the madam of a notorious brothel who is famous for educating her girls. He becomes a houseboy in Madam Flora’s brothel and is befriended by Maisie, her daughter, and Fahn, the Japanese girl who works in the kitchen. The friendship and love between these three form the first real family Ernest has ever known. Fifty years later, in the shadow of Seattle’s second World’s Fair, Ernest is struggling to help his ailing wife reconcile who she once was, while trying to keep family secrets hidden from their grown-up daughters.

Set against a rich backdrop of post-Victorian vice, suffrage, and celebration, "Love and Other Consolation Prizes" is an unforgettable story about the power of friendship, love and devotion in a world where everything and everyone is for sale. 

Credit Alan Alabastro
Jamie Ford

About the Author:

The son of a Chinese American father, Jamie Ford is author of the New York Times bestsellers "Songs of Willow Frost" and "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet," which won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. Having grown up in Seattle, he now lives in Montana with his wife and children.

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