This month the book review comes from Jesus House Book Club, a life group in London. They tackled AlisonWong’s novel ‘As the Earth Turns Silver’set in New Zealand in the 1900’s on the eve of the First World War.
The novel focuses on the lives of three main characters Yung, Shun and Katherine. The brothers are immigrants from China, working as greengrocers to support their families back home.
Katherine is a New Zealand woman struggling to raise two children following the death of her husband, Donald.One day, Katherine comes to Yung’s shop and is touched by the Chinese man’s unexpected generosity. A simple friendship develops over time and becomes love. But it is a forbidden love, one which must remain a secret.
Here is what we all thought about the book . . .
Book Club Host (Me)
“I found the first few chapters extremely difficult to get into. The plot is almost totally revealed in the synopsis, so the reader knows in part what will happen.
I often felt detached from characters and events, which was disappointing because the writing is really amazing and poetic – I loved the descriptions but the story did not come alive and leave the impact that it could have.I enjoyed the sounds of the Chinese language – I even tried to sound it out but I couldn’t get it quite right!”
The book was rather slow in pace, and as a result it was a challenge to get into. The setting was not immediately clear as the first mention of New Zealand (apart from the blurb on the back cover) was on page 29 and before that I would not have known this was where it was set.
At times it felt like there was a dream like quality that distanced the characters – as though they were speaking from outside of themselves, watching events rather than experiencing them.
I did enjoy the beautifully poetic imagery and description, but the book was generally not a page-turner. The front cover image of the book depicts a melodramatic love story but it is actually not that dramatic.
I was not aware that there were so many Chinese people in New Zealand in the early twentieth century and it was fascinating that the author’s ancestors had been amongst them. She was therefore in a unique position to write this.
The novel is a credible portrayal of a colonial society in transition. The story explores some interesting themes of the immigrant experience in New Zealand at that time. There is also some very good descriptive writing throughout the book.
On the Whole
The group overall had mixed views about the book which provoked a very animated discussion about whether they enjoyed it or not.
The group agreed that there was an element of predictability as the synopsis gave most of it away and left little for the imagination. Getting into it was a challenge; it was not engaging enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. In summary it is a book of many beautiful parts, readable, complex and rich in detail.The recommendation is to try it, even if you think it’s not quite your usual cup of tea!
About The Group
Francesca Lawrence, Clementina Lawrence, Seveen Cummins, Edel Meremikwu and other book club members meet regularly every two weeks. They are part of a life group within Jesus House church in London. They take turns to choose a book and host the discussion with tasty nibbles and refreshments.
Recent reads include ‘Rescued’ by John Bevere and Mark Andrew Olsen. The group are open to reading a variety of fiction and non-fiction books and discussing the topical themes of life that flow from this.
As a growing church, Jesus House life groups are a means by which congregation members connect and grow together in smaller informal settings. There are many different life groups where people come together through a shared interest or activity outside or in their homes to impart the life of Christ on one another through fellowship, discipleship and support.