As the Earth Turns Silver Book Review - www.impulsegamer.com -
AS THE EARTH TURNS SILVER
Alison Wong
 
 

Review Information

Reviewer: David Murcott
Review Date: October 2010

Book Information

Publisher: Picador
RRP: $29.95

7.0

out of 10

 

 

Set in early 20th century Wellington, As the Earth Turns Silver charts the lives of two young immigrants, brothers Yung and Shun, as they eke out a living as shop owners in order to support their wives and families back in China.  Nearby, local resident Katherine McKechnie struggles to raise two rebellious children following the recent death of her husband.  Happening upon Yung’s grocery store one day, Katherine is instantly struck by both his generosity and charm, and an illicit, unconventional love quickly blossoms between the pair. 

Touching on themes of racism, displacement, the longing for acceptance and the search for a definable cultural identity, As the Earth Turns Silver is a remarkably accomplished literary debut from New Zealand author Alison Wong.  The novel’s multi-faceted narrative is presented from numerous perspectives; each of the protagonists, their families and acquaintances are afforded the right to tell their own stories, in their own unique way.   

Like other authors unafraid to labour over their fiction Wong’s words also appear carefully chosen and she clearly has an eye for finding the poetry in the seemingly mundane.  Sometimes it is the poetry of the defeated (and the book does contain moments of real tragedy) but ultimately her carefully-hewn narrative succeed in bringing to life a moving tale of two lovers, and a love that branches the yawning racial divide of a bygone age. 

Drawing on extensive research as well as her own family history, Wong paints a richly compelling portrait of these three generations of Chinese settlers.  The hardships of immigrant life are unflinchingly detailed; the cultural and language barriers, feelings of dispossession, racism both overt and insidious, such as when Katherine tries to justify her feelings for the foreigner by musing on Yung’s ‘strong, almost European nose’ and the fact ‘he doesn’t really look Chinese.’  The book’s moments of poignancy and gentle joy, however, amply compensate, and continue to resonate long after the final page has been turned. 

While most Australians are familiar with the plight of early Chinese settlers to our shores through tales such as that of the Eureka Stockade and its ilk, the difficulties faced by New Zealand’s miniscule, immigrant Asian populations have gone largely undocumented in modern fiction. As the Earth Turns Silver goes some way towards redressing this deficiency, and stands as a haunting and highly competent debut.   






 
 



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