Next-in-Reading

Next-in-Reading #3: Saints

Next In ReadingTitle: Saints
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Year: 2013
Publisher: First Second

“So please, Vibiana. Be mindful of others as I am mindful of you.”

The sister publication to Gene Yang's Boxers.
The sister publication to Gene Yang’s Boxers.

Labelled a devil all her life, Four Girl struggles to live day-to-day, seeking (and failing to get) the approval of her family, she decides to resign to her title and be the best “devil” there is. In a turn of events, she finds Christianity and assumes a new identity – Vibiana. However, the struggles do not stop. In the midst of a rebellion and finding her true calling, Vibiana reaches a conclusion she may find less than satisfactory.

Character(s)

Vibiana / Four Girl, the Found Lost One

She appears to be the epitome of Chinese superstition and prejudice. “Four” in Chinese (and most Chinese dialects) sounds similar to the word “Death”, and this, coupled with the fact that she was a girl, the fourth child born on the fourth hour of the fourth day of the fourth month spells out this superstition. The fact that she was only called Four Girl instead of given a proper name not only shows the prejudice against her, but also the importance of superstition to her family.

The lack of a name can also show how she’s openly ostracized – the lack of a name can mean the refusal to acknowledge her as a member of the family. She is also juxtaposed against Cousin Chung, a strong man, the eldest grandchild and the favourite of the family throughout the story.

Though somehow seeming to be able to hold her own as she resigns to be the devil her grandfather has damned her to be, she continues to seek approval and belonging from various people – her grandfather, her family, Father Bey, the church. Her actions end up being geared towards the approval of others, rather than what or who she really is.

Joan of Arc, the Saint

She seems to be placed as Vibiana’s parallel in her spiritual journey. Mostly alone in their quests, she represents the Vibiana the latter probably envisions herself to be – strong, courageous, wise, and smart. While Vibiana constantly looks to Joan for advice, Joan is, more often than not, a buried reflection of Vibiana, or possibly her guardian angel who is pointing the way which is already in front of her.

Joan’s appearance early in the story could also point to Vibiana’s destiny of rebirth – to be born again, one must die (to oneself) – as represented by the raccoon which has been egging her on through the beginning of the story.

Themes

Approval…

This is especially from the community at large. Not only Vibiana, but also many in the story. Father Bey and Joan sought approval in their faith, their actions done as a service to God and indirectly, to benefit the community or the people, as they would hope.

Destiny…

Not exactly the topic of fate, but how in most faiths, the subject of a higher power having a plan for the believers that will ultimately be beneficial. After joining the church, Vibiana searches constantly for her mission in life – parallel to Joan, who is already in the service of God.

Social Service…

The theme of serving others is popping up repeatedly as well – Vibiana was beaten and asked to apologize for her baptism because she had to serve the family name. Father Bey constantly moved to various parts of China in service to the church.

Towards the end of the story, Jesus’s words ring out to Vibiana – the mission of her life was to be mindful of others. And though she died thinking that she did nothing important, the irony was how the prayer she taught Bao (her killer), would save him from death itself.

Style & Structure

Written as a pair with Boxers (covered last week), I believe it gave a good, well-rounded view on both sides of the Boxer Rebellion in China – no parties were portrayed to have total blame, and faiths were shown to be as important as the next – failed by the actions of human nature, not in its own merit.

Like last week, the main message I feel is really how truth resists simplicity. In a world as complex as ours, there is no one straight and fast rule to a carefree, virtuous life. Circumstance, the humanity of others, and other things not in our control play a part in our lives as well, to say the least.

For more information on Saints, click here. For more information on Boxers & Saints, and Gene Yang, click here.

Many thanks to Max for lending me his box set!
Many thanks to Max for lending me his box set!

In the meantime…

Here's a sneak peek at the next book for Next-in-Reading!
Here’s a sneak peek at the next book for Next-in-Reading!

And I’ll see you next week!

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