I had heard a lot about this graphic novel. Almost every book haul had it; almost everyone was talking about it online and offline (to some extent). I knew I had to pick this one up and I did and let me tell you that this one just did not disappoint at all. I had read, “American Born Chinese” as well, so I sort of knew what I was expecting from this one.
“Boxers & Saints” are two individual graphic novels, but can only be read as one, for them to make sense to the reader. The book is set in the late 1800s and at the beginning of 1900. The year is 1898. The place: China. The foreign missionaries are here to stay and not only that; they are going from village to village and town to town, converting the Chinese to Catholics. They mock their Gods and do not let them follow their faith. Amidst this, stands up Little Bao, wanting to fight the foreigners. He has learned to harness the power of the ancient Chinese Gods and begins to recruit an army of Boxers – common folks trained in Kung Fu, to fight the devils (the foreigners). Their power works and to a very large extent they are successful as well. Their trials and tribulations are recorded in Boxers.
On the other hand, there is Saints, lending perspective to the Chinese that turned Catholics, through the eyes of one girl – an unwanted daughter known as Four-Girl. She has never been given a real name by her family. She has always tried to be loved, to be equal to her male cousins. But when she decides to convert, she gets a name, Vibiana and also an identity of sorts, a motive so to speak.
Bao’s and Vibiana’s paths cross very briefly and that you can only know, once you read the novel. Gene Luen builds a powerful construct in the form of a graphic novel. He brings out the themes of religion, alienation, faith, and old versus the new brilliantly through this storytelling form.
What is most interesting is that no one or rather very few people know of this time in Chinese history. Luen Yang brings that to fore, which is done subtly with Chinese Gods on one hand and Joan of Arc (yes you read that right) on the other, for inspiration and a struggle – both individually and for a nation.
“Boxers & Saints” is a graphic novel well thought of – from every single perspective. If you want to read something unique and different, when it comes to the graphic novel, then this is the perfect read for you. Highly recommended!
Here is a brilliant book trailer: