15 February 2014

Boxers & Saints: Review

Boxers and Saints boxed set
Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers and Saints are two graphic novels that tell the same story from a different perspective of one of the most controversial episodes of modern Chinese history.

I read Saints first. In this beautifully illustrated graphic novel, the protagonist is a young girl who, born as the fourth and only surviving child, on the fourth day of the fourth month is deemed bad luck. Synonymous with death, Four Girl is shunned and miserable in a village that has no place for her. She is taken in by Christian missionaries and finds, for the first time, a home with them. As the Boxer Rebellion gains momentum, Vibiana (as her new name is given to her by the foregin devils) must decide whether to abandon her Christian friends or to commit herself fully to Christianity.

Boxers tells the opposite side of the story from the perspective of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose village is abused and plundered by Westerners claiming the role of missionaries. Little Bao is inspired by visions of the Chinese gods and joins a violent uprising against the Western interlopers. Against all odds, their grass-roots rebellion is successful - but at what cost. Only by reading both novels do you get to fully appreciate the horrors of all involved.

Both characters cross paths and the stories intersect at various points - meaning there is no right or wrong order in which to read them. The two sides of the same tale, however, lend an interesting and fully rounded exploration of this time in Chinese history. Included in Singapore's Red Dot Awards this year, I am sure they will be a strong contender for the top slot and will have a place on the shelf of my classroom library for many years to come.