Title: As the Earth Turns Silver
Author: Alison Wong
Publication: Picador (2010)
Summary: Set in New Zealand at the turn of the 20th century a forbidden friendship between Katherine and Yung blossoms.
What I Think
Wong Chung-yung (Yung), the younger of two brothers, emigrates from China to New Zealand in 1896. Battling loneliness, racism and prejudice they run a fruit and vegetable shop. Katherine McKechnie is one of the few white women who talks to Yung. She has her own problems in the form of a horrible husband and two unruly children to bring up. Their friendship, which stems from her trying to help him improve his broken English, goes from strength to strength until they are prepared to put everything at risk to be together.
Alison Wong's debut novel, As the Earth Turns Silver, has bitten off a little more than it can chew. She tackles: racism, immigration, feminism, Maoris, white supremacy, difficulties in China and WWI. All these topics are covered in the relatively short 262 page novel. The result is that all have a little airing, but none are looked into with the depth that they deserve. This unfortunately creates a shallowness that I'm sure wasn't intended, but is nonetheless apparent.
The friendship that sparks between Yung and Katherine would have been strictly forbidden by society and most probably unaccepted by friends and family. It doesn't feel plausible that they would have taken this risk for what doesn't come across as a particularly deep connection. They meet in secret, out of doors, and this also seems far too dangerous a risk to take for both of them.
This was an easy read and the language was at times beautiful. Wong is a poet and that was noticeable, but overall this book was detached and gloomy.
About the Author
Alison Wong was born and raised in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand, after her great-grandparents on both sides migrated from China's Guangdong province in the 1890s. She studied mathematics and later creative writing at Victoria University in Wellington, worked in IT, and spent several years in China. In 2002 she held the Robert Burns Fellowship at Otago University. Her poetry collection Cup was shortlisted for Best First Book for Poetry at the 2007 Montana New Zealand Book Awards and her poetry was selected for Best New Zealand Poems 2006 and 2007. She lives in Wellington. As the Earth Turns Silver is her first novel.