Friday, February 28, 2014

Boxers and Saints

Boxers and Saints
By Gene Luen Yang
First Second, 2013. 325 and 170 pages. Graphic Novel

In Boxers, bands of Christian missionaries roam China's countryside, bullying peasants, dishonoring Chinese gods and traditions, and robbing. But once a beloved shrine to villager Little Bao's favorite god is destroyed, the young man decides he's had enough. Calling upon the powers of the ancient gods, protectors of China, Little Bao recruits and army of commoners trained in kung fu, men and women who will fight to free China from the "foreign devils" who may destroy everything they love about their country. Though Little Bao's army of "Boxers" is mighty, he soon realizes that the cause of protecting his homeland isn't as clear-cut as it seemed . . . especially once Little Bao and his army encounter a train full of "secondary devils," or Chinese converts to Christianity, and the lines between right and wrong become blurred.

In Saints, Four-Girl isn't even given a proper name until she converts to Catholicism and is baptized by they very priest who terrorized Little Bao's village. Four-Girl, now known as Vibiana (a Christian name she chooses for herself), begins to see visions of Joan of Arc, and is inspired to leave home and find fulfillment through service to the Church.

Little Bao's and Vibiana's paths collide with disastrous results, ones that will change them both -- and all of China -- forever.

Yang's spare, clean artistic style lends grace to a very violent period of China's history, and the juxtaposition of Little Bao's and Vibiana's respective stories and closely-held beliefs allows Yang to explore all the facets and intricacies of China's Boxer Rebellion. Both protagonists are sympathetic, dynamic, and so very human; they make mistakes, they love, and they lose. A compelling look at a difficult and little-known period in China's history.


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