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“What is China but a people and their stories?”

What is this book about?

This is not officially one book, but actually a graphic novel in two volumes. The stories are interlinked however, so I’m reviewing them as a whole. We’re in China 1898 and Christian missionaries are roaming the country with the intention of saving souls. Boxers is told from the perspective of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant who is fed up with these missionaries looting his home and draws strength from ancient Chinese Gods to fight them off. With an army of Boxers he fights for the glory of China, but not everything is at it seems, because in Saints we follow Four-girl. She was born on the same countryside, but took to Christianity and the kind preacher who showed her affection. Taking on a Christian name after baptizing, Four-Girl is now called Vibiana and has to find a way to balance her heritage with her new found faith.

Why is it boring?

Boxers & Saints is based on the true story of the Boxer Rebellion. It’s somewhat of a bloody tale and the book can be quite moralizing at times.

Who would you recommend it to?

Anyone who likes graphic novels should definitely give this a try. It has a bit of a fantastical aspect as the Boxers ‘turn’ into ancient Chinese gods and fight, but it definitely doesn’t overshadow the moral of the story. Going in I didn’t know it was historical fiction, but I can definitely recommend it to people interested in Chinese culture and history.

Why should I read it if it’s boring?!

What I like about Boxers & Saints is that the book can be read in whatever order you prefer. I started with Boxers and then read Saints, but many have done it the other way around. Whichever way you choose first has a big influence on the progress of the narrative, but I think the result will be the same. Yang does an amazing job writing both books from such different perspectives, that you start to believe that one of them is right. This shifts immediately when you read the second book and you find that the problems are much more complicated than they seem. Boxers & Saints is a great exercise in imagining other people complexly, especially if these other people are so different from yourself. The art is beautiful, using very rich and vibrant colors to portray the gods while using much more muted tones for the sober Christians. Yang tells a heavy story in a very playful way, but he never underplays the horror that took place during the Boxer Rebellion. The only problem I had with it was the clear moralistic message, and although Yang delivers it so strong that you can’t disagree with it, it’s also a bit heavy-handed. Besides that, the book left me feeling terrible, so a job well done!

Rating: 4/5

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Author

Esmée de Heer is head honcho over at the Bored to Death book club website, writing the daily content and making sure the site stays up and running. She’s one of the founding sisters of the book club and enjoys reading and giving unsolicited love advice.

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