ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.



February 2024



The Snakehead by Patrick Radden Keefe

Written by , Posted in Uncategorized

Three Stars

Best for:
People interested in the concepts of immigration and human trafficking.

In a nutshell:
Keef explores the life of Sister Ping, a woman who helped smuggle thousands of people to the US from China, and along the way looks at the history of immigration laws and the lengths people will go to when they want to build a different life.

Worth quoting:

Why I chose it:
I’ve read all of Keefe’s other books, and really enjoyed most of them.

I am someone who has managed to immigrate to a new country. I was born and raised in the US, but thanks to a skilled worker visa my partner was able to secure, I have managed to get the equivalent of a green card in the UK, bought a home and am waiting on a citizenship decision. My ability to do this required me to be married to someone with a ‘scarce’ skill set, and to have the funds to support such a move.

But so many people do not have that option but want it, and because of the absolutely mammoth hurdles people have to overcome to be able to immigrate to a new country, many seek alternative options. Enter the Snakehead, a.k.a. Sister Ping, a woman who took serious advantage of the desperation of those who wanted to leave China and move to the US.

The book starts with the horrors of a ship having washed ashore, with undocumented individuals thrashing about in the waves outside Queens, New York, emaciated and not able to speak English. It then drops back to explore the history of immigration laws in the US, interwoven with this story of a woman and those who worked for her, taking money from people in exchange for bringing them to the US.

I found the book itself a real challenge to get into for some reason, unlike Keefe’s books on the IRA and on the Sackler family. I think it is his first investigative book, so perhaps his craft has developed over time. But I also find the underlying topic so interesting, heartbreaking, and frankly infuriating. I find immigration laws overall to be a bit absurd in their complexity – I think it’s kind of silly to have borders as they are now. I of course understand the desire to self-govern and set ones own norms and rules within one’s own community (city/state/nation), but considering it’s basically just a roll of the dice in terms of where you are born, I don’t understand how anyone can rationalize making it so hard for people to move about.

What’s next for this book:
I’m still waiting for him to announce his next book, and I’ll definitely pick that one up whenever it comes out.

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