I love receiving books by mail. As I came home one day, with a copy of the Asia Literary Review (which I didn’t know my husband had subscribed to), I received this book! I was filled with a somewhat childish exuberance.
I began to read not knowing what its about. (I am one of those people who like to read the end after reading less than 20 pages of the book.) But somehow, it didn’t greatly appeal to me. I thought it will be one of those books which I pick and don’t finish (which off late have been quite a few).
The books smoothly takes you into the setting. It is a very unique setting. Pre-world war I – New Zealand. Being part of the commonwealth nations that were at one time ruled by the Great Britain, its easy to ignore the far east and far far south east while thinking of World War I.
Amidst the changes that world was going through in the first two decades of the new century, there was a love story brewing somewhere. The story of two people who find themselves alone. Two people who are capable of civility and humanity and who are drawn to each other despite the differences in their physical appearance, colour of the skin and greatest of all – language.
Yung till his end aspires to speak English. Did I say till his end? Yes. The story unfortunately does not end happily. Alison Wong, the author, does provide perspectives. The most frightening being that of Katherine’s son, Robbie. He is the sum of all brain washing that society can do to a child to make it believe in caste and difference in the class of two human beings. Being from India, casteism is something I have seen and grown up with. But somehow, never been able to accept it. I was shocked at the age of 10 when my father told me that untouchability in India was an offence under a special legislation for that purpose. Why should there be any untouchability? Who declared us high and mighty? But my dad just shrugged and said, that is how things were in India.
For a long time I believed that the reason India was not progressing at a pace the western world or its contemporaries have progressed, is because of this blind belief in age old systems. However, at the time no one told me that this is not something that is true of India but is true of every place in the world.
Reading this book has only affirmed that thought process of mine. The holocaust gives me shivers everytime I think of it. In some form or the other people have found excuses to kill each other. I am not advocating that China is not trying to be a super power or that I am not scared of Chinese infiltration into India through the commercial world. But Yung is not China. Yung was not the reason that money was being “squandered” to China from New Zealand. The 5 pounds that Yung sent his sick wife and son he never saw cannot topple the economy.
The anger of people is so misplaced. To systemically teach children to hate on the ground that someone is a lower form of a human being! That’s not an education! Even the one moderniste, feministe, character in the book admonishes Katherine for thinking that a Chinese man was capable of being loved.
It is an extremely well written book. Although I wonder if it only portrays a lop sided picture. I cannot be sure.