By Alison Wong
Published by Penguin Books (NZ) 2009
From the late nineteenth century to the 1920s from Kwangtung, China to Wellington and Dunedin and the battlefields of the western front – the story of two families.
Yung faces a new land that does not welcome the Chinese. Alone, Katherine struggles to raise her children and find her place in the world.
In a climate of hostility towards the foreign newcomers, Katherine and Yung embark on a poignant and far-reaching love affair.
I recently spent a couple of days in lovely Wellington whose gentle atmosphere I particularly enjoyed along with the friendliness of its cosmopolitan residents.
As I usually do when first visiting a country, I entered a book shop looking for some books by local writers. The shop assistant was quick in suggesting « As the earth turns silver », proud to explain that the story was taking place in that very same city.
At the dawn of the 20th century, Wellington is a thriving city where both white and Chinese communities struggle to build a future for themselves.
Through the lives of 2 families Alison Wong describes the segregating climate that pervades the city.
Back then, New Gold Mountain as the Chinese call it, is a choice destination for those who try to flee poverty. Crammed in a restricted area of the inner city, torn up between their ancestral traditions and their new British environment, they strive to fit in with this new world. The detailed depiction of life in rural China, where all the relatives are left behind hoping for better days, add deepness and poignancy to the narrative.
Wong’s fiction is a genuine and subtle painting of racism. She never recurs to hatred or harsh violence but brilliantly sets out the throes of those who are prejudiced against.
As the earth turns silver is a hymn to courage, to acceptation of difference and adaptation to change.
This dazzling love story is beautifully structured, very readable and enjoyable.