“Saints” by Gene Luen Yang (First Second, 2013)

Saints
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The companion volume to Boxers, the duology is the first graphic novel to make an appearance on the National Book award Longlist. Saints is the other side of the tale, focusing on a young girl and her journey across China after meeting briefly with Bao, and presents a completely different side to the Boxer Rebellion.

Four-Girl has had a tough life so far. She is the unwanted fourth daughter of the family who is expected to do her chores, work herself to exhaustion, and act like the dutiful child she is. But she knows she is hated by everyone, with her ugly features, and wants to just be the evil little devil everyone thinks she is. So she does the worst thing she can think: she converts to Christianity and begins to learn about the faith from one of the foreign devil priests. She takes a new, Christian, name, Vibiana. But the Boxer Rebellion is ramping up, going against and slaughtering her new Christian people, to defend the Chinese of her family and heritage. Four-Girl will have to choose where her allegiances lie.

Saints is a wonderful tale of the other side of this tumultuous time, exploring the Christian side of events and creates a delightful quest in Vibiana going on her own journey, sometimes with the likes of Joan of Arc as a companion. The art and sparing use of color lend credence to the story, making it a memorable one.

Originally written on October 2, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Saints from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Boxers” by Gene Luen Yang (First Second, 2013)

Boxers
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From the author of the award-nominated graphic novel American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang, comes an epic and original undertaking on the catastrophic event known as the Boxer Rebellion. Yang uses an innocent simplicity to the story and artwork that leaves the reader contemplating the big picture. One part of a diptych, along with Saints, this is the first graphic novel ever to be nominated for the National Book Award Longlist.

The year is 1898 and the place is China, but the country that has been so familiar and known to its inhabitants is changing. Foreign missionaries roam the countryside, converting Chinese to the new Christian faith, while foreign soldiers roam around bullying and robbing Chinese peasants. Little Bao is a young boy who has had enough of these “foreign devils.” Secretly learning martial arts from a stranger in town, he feels his calling from the old gods of China and recruits an army of Boxers. They begin to mount their defense, fighting back against the foreigners, killing and freeing the Chinese. Their final showdown will be at the great city of Peking.

Boxers does an excellent job of explaining the history of the period, as well as revealing the mythology and beliefs of the people in mounting their defense. While the story has a feel of fiction, it is a moving tale that remains true to the history and culture. It is an excellent example of how some graphic novels can go one long step further than just a regular work of nonfiction.

Originally written on October 2, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Boxers from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“River of Stars” by Guy Gavriel Kay (Roc, 2013)

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In River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay returns to the same world as he did with Under Heaven inspired by China’s Tang Dynasty, but jumps 400 years ahead and presents one of his own unique partly historical fiction, partly fantasy novels, this time inspired by the Song Dynasty. River of Stars is another great example of Kay’s lyrical writing and creative talent, making it no surprise he is a bestselling author with many readers worldwide.

Ren Daiyan was just a boy when he was ordered out on a mission to protect a magistrate and when besieged by highwaymen fought and killed them all in cold blood. It changed him, made him advance beyond his years and see the world and his life in a new way. From that moment he was different and never returned home, taking a new path. He finds himself joining a group of outlaws, becoming a Robin Hood type character, feared by those rich nobles who must travel throughout Kitai to serve the emperor.

Lln Shan is a beautiful woman and the daughter of a scholar who has educated her in ways most women never are. She is a talented songwriter and calligrapher who soon earns the interest of the emperor. She finds herself uprooted from her simple life and transported to one of lavish opulence in the city of the emperor, but it is one she is quite inexperienced with and must learn the complex politics and ways that a noble woman should perform.

As factions pit against each other and a war begins to brew in the north, Ren finds himself drawn to the wondrous city of Xinan and then Hanjin as he begins to serve the emperor in the army, doing what must be done to preserve the peace and the empire. He also meets a beautiful and talented woman by the name of Lln Shan.

River of Stars is well named, as it takes the reader on a literary pleasure cruise along a river of words and images, transporting them back in time to this great period of luxury and decadence, but also harshness. Kay does a good job of showing the various classes and levels of society, making this world seem not that different from our own, and certainly a relateable one. He also introduces his quasi-fantasy element; giving scenes and events a supernatural and spiritual feel that go beyond the mundane. Fans of Kay will delight in River of Stars, and for those looking to try the talented writer for the first time, this is a worthy example.

Originally written on September 23, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of River of Stars from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“The Post-American World” by Fareed Zacharia (Norton, 2008)

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Fareed Zakaria, author of The Future of Freedom, and editor for Newsweek Inter-national, offers up a sobering yet fascinating look at the possible future of the United States and its stake as the global superpower in the first half of the twenty-first century.  The Post-American World is part business, part political, part historical, and part sociological; as Zakaria analyzes how the United States has arrived at the state it is in internationally, and what the future holds for the two global giants of India and China on the horizon.

Zakaria begins by discussing how the United States – as well as its citizens – has continued to perceive itself, from the end of the Cold War to the present, as the sole global superpower and utopian democratic and capitalist nation by which the rest of the world should admire and follow suit with.  This is all too clear with the globalization of numerous American companies such as the McDonald’s and Starbucks franchises, which can now be found almost anywhere in the world, on every continent except Antarctica.  But in that time, the United States has lost uncountable jobs, manufacturing industries, and development institutions to other countries, which is now causing serious problems with unemployment and the cost of goods and services to the nation and its citizens.

Zakaria points out: “Generations from now, when historians write about these times, they might note that, in the early decades of the twenty-first century, the United States succeeded in its great and historic mission – it globalized the world.  But along the way, they might write, it forgot to globalize itself.”

Coupled with this is the continued downfall and disinterest the rest of the world now has in the United States with the choices and decisions it has made.  “The world is moving from anger to indifference, from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism,” Zakaria says. And it is not until the United States fully comprehends this, that things will begin turning around and improving.

With the United States left in the wake of globalization, Zakaria turns the reader to the next two giants that will become the next so-called superpowers due to the variety and number of industries already situated within their borders, as well as the exploding workforce that is available at a much cheaper rate than the Western World.  Zakaria spends most of the book, with specific chapters each on India and China, giving their history and development over the centuries and how it is that they now stand at this brink to become the next superpowers.  He also offers sobering statistics in a world that is becoming more environmentally inclined: “Between 2006 and 2012, China and India will build eight hundred new coal-fired power plants – with combined [carbon dioxide] emissions five times the total savings of the Kyoto accords.”  And yet the growth in these countries is unstoppable and how is America to critique this when it is one of the largest contributors of carbon dioxide in the world?

In the last chapter, Zakaria addresses what the United States needs to do to become the once great shining nation it was.  “It needs to stop cowering in fear.  It is fear that has created a climate of paranoia and panic in the United States and fear that has enabled our strategic missteps.”  While at this moment in time, this seems more of a lesson for its government than its people, it is the last paragraph in The Post-American World that makes the most sense to the reader:

“For America to thrive in this new and challenging era, for it to succeed amid the rise of the rest, it need fulfill only one test.  It should be a place that is as inviting and exciting to the young student who enters the country today as it was for this awkward eighteen-year-old a generation ago.”

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on June 20th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.