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The Snakehead

An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream

Patrick Radden Keefe



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31 October 2023
"In the 1980s, a wave of Chinese from Fujian province began arriving in America. Many of them lived in a world outside the law, working in a shadow economy overseen by the ruthless gangs that ruled the narrow streets of New York's Chinatown.

The figure who came to dominate this Chinese underworld was a middle-aged grandmother known as Sister Ping. Her path to the American dream began with an unusual business run out of a tiny noodle store on Hester Street. From her perch above the shop, Sister Ping ran a business that earned an estimated $40 million, smuggling people.

As a ""snakehead"", she built a complex and often vicious global conglomerate, relying heavily on familial ties, and employing one of Chinatown's most violent gangs to protect her power and profits. Sister Ping created an intricate smuggling network that stretched from Fujian Province to Hong Kong to Burma to Thailand to Kenya to Guatemala to Mexico.

Sister Ping's empire only came to light in 1993 when the Golden Venture, a ship loaded with 300 undocumented immigrants, ran aground off a Queens beach. It took New York's fabled ""Jade Squad"" and the FBI nearly 10 years to untangle the criminal network and home in on its unusual mastermind."

Imprint:   Picador
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 198mm,  Width: 130mm,  Spine: 29mm
Weight:   312g
ISBN:   9781529099881
ISBN 10:   1529099889
Pages:   448
Publication Date:  
Recommended Age:   From 18 years
Audience:   General/trade ,  College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  ELT Advanced ,  Primary
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active
Author Website:

Patrick Radden Keefe is an award-winning staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty - winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, as well as two previous critically-acclaimed books, The Snakehead, and Chatter. He is the writer and host of the eight-part podcast Wind of Change on the origins of the Scorpions' power ballad, which The Guardian named the #1 podcast of 2020.

Reviews for The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream

Reads like a mashup of The Godfather and Chinatown, complete with gun battles, a ruthless kingpin and a mountain of cash. Except that it's all true. * Time * Essential reading. . . . A rich, beautifully told story, so suspenseful and with so many unexpected twists that in places it reads like a John le Carre novel. * The Washington Post * A masterwork . . . In this single tale about a global criminal, Keefe finds a story of quintessentially American hope. * Christian Science Monitor * Painstakingly reported and vividly told. . . . As immigration reform languishes in Washington . . . everyone involved--from policymakers to activists to the undocumented--would be wise to read The Snakehead. * Newsweek * A formidably well-researched book that is as much a paean to its author's industriousness as it is a chronicle of crime. -- Janet Maslin * New York Times * Bracing, vivid . . . Keefe writes gracefully, perceptively, insightfully . . . Without sacrificing one iota of narrative momentum, he untangles a dauntingly complicated human-trafficking operation so a reader can effortlessly follow along. * The New York Times Book Review * Brilliant . . . Keefe's mastery of this chapter of our ongoing immigration saga is impressive. He muses thoughtfully about its many conundrums and highlights how our ethos of welcoming the persecuted gets soured by bad policy and the pervasive exploitation of the helpless. * Los Angeles Times * Engrossing. . . . Keefe's narrative delves deeply into Chinatown and the labyrinthine smuggling routes between China and America, but it's also a glimpse into our conflicted feelings about illegals and the morass of America's immigration policy. * New York Magazine *

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