Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Genre: Historical Fiction (Graphic Novel)
Series: A two volume set
Publisher: First Second
Publication Date: 2013
Pages: Boxers – 325, Saints – 170
The Short Version:
Two volumes that portray the opposite sides of China’s 1900 Boxer Rebellion.
Why I Read It:
I have been addicted to this series from the very first book and the only reason I’m not reading them faster is that I want The Hubster to read them along with me.
This is actually a two volume series that is sold both separately and as a set.
From the publisher:
In two volumes, Boxers & Saints tells two parallel stories. The first is of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose village is abused and plundered by Westerners claiming the role of missionaries. Little Bao, inspired by visions of the Chinese gods, joins a violent uprising against the Western interlopers. Against all odds, their grass-roots rebellion is successful.
But in the second volume, Yang lays out the opposite side of the conflict. A girl whose village has no place for her is taken in by Christian missionaries and finds, for the first time, a home with them. As the Boxer Rebellion gains momentum, Vibiana must decide whether to abandon her Christian friends or to commit herself fully to Christianity.
If you only read one volume of this work you’re missing out. They really should be read together because as the back of both books says, “Every war has two faces.” One volume of this two-parter does not tell the complete story
In Boxers, Little Bao sees his culture and way of life mocked and abused by foreigners and missionaries seeking to replace his religion with a new one. He sees his family and friends abused by what are known as ‘The Foreign Devils”. He becomes a leader in the “Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist” who set out to destroy not only the foreigners but also the ‘secondary devils’ (the Chinese Christians).
In Saints, a young girl is known only as “Four-girl” because after three previous children died in infancy her grandfather didn’t see the point in giving the new baby a name. She doesn’t really feel like she is a part of her family and learns to put on a ‘devil face’ to avoid interaction with others. When she finds acceptance and the offer of a new name among the Chinese Christians and missionaries she feels like a part of something for the first time in her life.
There are elements of magical realism in these and although that’s not something I seek out or necessarily enjoy in my books it works here. Little Bao is guided by the spirit of an Chinese leader and Four-Girl who is baptized with the name Vibiana communicates with the spirit of Joan of Arc. Both young people are seeking to do what their hearts tell them is right for themselves and for their country but from opposing sides of the same events and whether one or both will survive the conflict is uncertain.
I enjoyed the way that the two stories were intertwined despite being in two separate volumes. Vibiana appears occasionally in Boxers and Bao shows up here and there in Saints. There are a handful of events that are in both volumes but there are also completely separate stories. Yang manages to do an excellent job of making both sides of the story sympathetic.
This period of China’s history is one that I’m not all that familiar with but after reading this excellent set of books I definitely want to learn more.
The artwork is primarily sepia and gray tones with occasional flashes of color particularly to indicate the magical portions of the story. There is plenty of bloodshed and some pretty brutal fighting and execution scenes.
I’m very glad I got on the library waiting list early when I heard about these book. They’re well done and definitely leave the reader with much to discuss and ponder.