The Snake Head: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream
by Patrick Radden Keefe
Doubleday, 2009. 414 pgs. Nonfiction.
On June 6, 1993 a beat-up ship ran aground near the Rockaway Peninsula between Brooklyn and Queens. Patrolling police officers heard screams from the water, and discovered many dozens of emaciated Chinese leaping into the ocean and scattering if they reached land. Many did not, and drowned. From this dramatic beginning springs the story of Sister Ping, a diminutive woman from China's Fujian Province who masterminded the entry of thousands of illegal immigrants into the United States, ran an underground banking system moving millions of dollars between China and the U. S., and employed violent gangsters to offload her ships and protect her interests. As a "snake head," the intelligent end of a labyrinthine body that wound through many nations to bring illegals ashore, Sister Ping ran her multimillion dollar smuggling operation out of a noodle restaurant in New York's Chinatown, arranging for the purchase of bogus passports from Belize and routing her Fujian clients by plane, boat, or whatever availed through Africa, South America, and Russia to spots in the U. S. where the border was most porous. Reading like a fine suspense novel, The Snake Head tells Sister Ping's incredible tale and the story of the tenacious law enforcement teams who finally smoked her out and nailed her down. A crackerjack of a story, well told.