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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Saints (Graphic Novel) (Non Fiction)

By Gene Luen Yang

Publisher: First Second; First Edition edition (September 10, 2013)

Softcover 176 pages

Finished 9/15/2017

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    The first of a two part series taking place during the Boxer Rebellion in China between 1899 and 1901. I should say it culminates in the rebellion as we see the life of the protagonist from the age of eight. It is a wonderful piece of historical fiction. Strangely spiritual, it leaves you feeling that a great loss has occurred and I even felt upset over the tragedy of it all.
    The main character is a young Chinese girl whose family has refused to give a name to her. She is considered to be an evil omen, being the fourth female born of her mother. The number four in old Chinese culture was synonymous with death. Thus she is only referred to as Four-Girl, or Death-Girl. After being called a devil by her ancient grandfather, she vows to become one and inadvertently becomes drawn to Christianity. The religion was considered an anathema to many in rural China and a tool of the foreign Devils.

    She find acceptance in the Catholic mission and eventually, after being beaten by her family for her new faith, joins it full time. Eventually she chooses a name for herself from among the many female saints, as taking on a new name was symbolic of leaving your old life behind. This was not unusual in Catholic missionary work. Often the religion would gain a following and a foothold from the lower castes and disposed of a culture.

The text does not go into detail for the reasons behind the Boxer Rebellion (that will be covered more in the companion volume Boxers), but it was mainly in response to the foreign influence in China during that time. Many European governments had “spheres of influence” in the country where various power exercised judicial and trade powers. The aspect that touches our protagonist is the Boxers (or the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist- no doubt it loses something in the translation) violent rejection of the Christian religion, which had radiated out from the spheres of influence. 
Author Gene Leun Yang

If you’re looking for a happy happy Jesus ending this is not the book for you. Unknowingly our protagonist shrouds herself in martyrdom. She has vision of Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, having long conversations with the Saint and vowing to follow in her footsteps. She perhaps doesn’t know the end of Joan’s story, only that she was warrior maid who led her country to victory.
She chooses the name Vibiana as her new Christian moniker because she likes how is sounds. Another sinister bit of foreshadowing, St. Vibiana was a third century Catholic virgin saint (also the patron saint of Los Angeles) martyred for her religion, though the specifics of her life and death have been lost to time. Our protagonist takes on a similar fate. She will not be remembered, but she dies for her faith, refusing the renounce it. In the end, she commits a completely selfless act that eventually saves the life of her murderer- who, incidentally, is the protagonist of the the next volume. 
Image of St. Vibiana

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

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