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Boxers & Saints Boxed Set Paperback – September 10, 2013
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“A masterful work of historical fiction that happens to be in the form of a graphic novel, and a very accessible view into a complicated moment in Chinese history.” ―Dave Eggers
“In Boxers and Saints, Gene Luen Yang once again masterfully draws us into the most difficult issues of self-identity and communal understanding, with characters who struggle to act out of their deepest cultural and spiritual selves. But when they find that their commitments lead them in terrible, frightening directions--one toward massacres, another toward martyrdom--they must ask questions for which there are no easy answers. The brilliance of this novel--and I mean, aside from the brilliance in the telling of a major historical episode about which most North Americans know very little and which provides some critical lessons in political relationships--the brilliance lies in the merger of fast action and humor and very real characters and startling graphics with a shattering sense of the brokenness of the world and our terrible need for compassion. Read this, and come away shaking.” ―National Book Award Finalist and Newbery Honor winner Gary Schmidt, author of Okay for Now and The Wednesday Wars
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Top Customer Reviews
Okay, now to the meat. "Boxers" is the story of a young Chinese boy who becomes incensed at how Christians have invaded China and begun to despoil both Chinese culture and the Chinese people. So he learns how to invoke the gods of China to fight back. "Saints", on the other hand, is the story of a young Chinese girl, terribly abused by her family, who finds comfort in Christianity, converts, and -- spurred on by visions of Joan of Arc -- wishes to fight back against the Boxers. The stories are great counterpoints to each other, containing many humanizing touches that make you feel you are reading about real people, not archetypes. The artwork is very clean and readable, and sophisticated in its storytelling, proving against the modern wave of hyper-detailed comic book art that sometimes less is more.
The year is 1898. The place is China. Once closed off to the rest of the world, foreign missionaries and soldiers have taken to roaming the countryside to bully, rob, and convert the Chinese people. There are those that wish to stand up to them, but how? The foreigners have guns and power on their side. And then...Little Bao stands up. He has learned to harness the power of the ancient Chinese gods, and he recruits an army of Boxers - common people trained in Kung Fu, who use the power of the ancient gods to free China from those "foreign devils." And lo and behold it works! They begin winning violent battles against the foreign soldiers. But there is a cost to their victory. Death. Death of those "foreign devils" and death of Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.
On the other side of the coin of the Boxers...are the Saints. Chinese Christians who want to make a better life for themselves, but are torn between their nation and their faith. One such Saint is an unwanted fourth daughter, Four-Girl, who is never even given a real name by her family. Instead she finds both a name, Vibiana, and a family with a local Christian missionary. She begins having visions of Joan of Arc, who attempts to guide her down the path of righteousness. But the Boxer Rebellion is coming...and Vibiana will soon have to decide whether she will be Chinese or Christian.
Much like in American Born Chinese, Gene Yang weaves two different powerful stories together to create one amazing story. In this collection, each story represents a different side of the coin. On one side you have Little Bao and the past traditions of China and it's culture. On the other side you have Vibiana and the Chinese Christians, representing a possible future for the country, one that scares many. When the story begins this coin is doing a delicate balancing act, with neither side overwhelming the other. But soon...things begin to tip and sway one way and the other. First the Christian missionaries begin to rob and bully the Chinese around them. And then the coin swivels and the Boxers appear, ready to take back their own land. By the end of the book...well you'll have to read it to see what happens.
What I like about this collection is that the books work well together to form a history of a time period that many in the Western part of the world are probably not familiar with and it's written for all ages to understand. Even more so, Gene writes the story so that we understand the horrors committed by both sides of the conflict. Gene takes care to show that while both sides had valid arguments, their methods and ways of getting what they wanted were becoming increasingly violent and splintered as strong people in each group began adding their own meanings to what they saw. While this is likely to make some folks uncomfortable, it is necessary to understand the whole of the conflict. Gene does an excellent job of ensuring that we, as readers, are able to question both sides of the conflict.
Gene brings his typical, wonderful, art style to this collection. His bright, rich colors, strong lines, and shading create characters that leap off the page, especially in the Boxers book. This is in particular noticeable when we see the ancient Chinese gods wearing theatrical costumes as they do battle. It helps make this time period in history come to life a little bit more. What is even more remarkable though about the artwork for these two books is when you contrast Boxers with Saints. Boxers is all about the bright colors. Saints...is more muted. Brown and dust inhabit the pages, except when we see the specters of Joan of Arc who is brightly colored. It presents a very different view of the characters of these two volumes...one that you'll have to read to see.
My one regret about these two books, is that I would have loved to have an afterward, one that gave a bit more information about the influences of creation of the books. But that is neither here nor there. Overall this is an excellent two volume set and I would highly recommend it for all libraries and all ages. I give both books 5 out of 5 stars.
ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond
What Yang gives us in each book is a separate portrait of two young people from similar circumstances who take dramatically different paths to finding a coherent identity and a sense of justice. Through their interwoven stories, Yang takes each one through a series of extremely difficult questions about the origins of religious and political extremism, how even good people with noble ideas can cause unspeakable damage, the horrors of imperialism, and the ways in which the various Christian mission movements were problematically tied to the imperialists. Yang takes no sides and does not moralize about the events of the Boxer rebellion, just a profound sadness for their plight and his ever-present deep, deep empathy. And that is precisely what makes these novels so devastating.
Yang explores in gut-wrenching detail the ways in which each person's unique experiences shape the ways in which they react to political and cultural upheaval. Little Bao, the protagonist of "Boxers," suddenly feels his mostly-idyllic way of life shattered by the arrival of foreign missionaries and British troops. Vibiana, the protagonist of "Saints," is an unwanted child who lacks a even a proper name or a place in her granfather's household, and so the arrival of the "foreign devils" provides something else entirely. Both Bao and Vibiana are given an opportunity for open rebellion, but in different ways, and they each follow those convictions down to their explosive conclusion.
For those who love Yang's incorporation of folklore and imagination into a real-life landscape, these books are a feast. He uses a rich backdrop of both Chinese opera and Christian hagiography to create a multi-textured story, just as he did with the tales of the Monkey King in "American Born Chinese."
Trust me-- just get both books. These are meant to be read as two different movements of the same work, and you will miss out on so much the counterpoint in each story if you don't. While they can probably be read in either order, definitely save the "Epilogue" in "Saints" for last.
That epilogue, however, is sure to cause what I hope will be some healthy, productive disagreement about the nature of justice and mercy, and I can't wait to see what others have to say about it.