osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
I looooooooved Dori Jones Yang's The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang with such an all-consuming long that when, seven or eight years after I read it, I came to create a livejournal, I worked an allusion to the main character into the subtitle: Gina's name is pronounced Jinna in Chinese.

Never mind that unlike Jinna I was not an elective mute or Chinese or an immigrant schoolchild; we both made up long unending stories in our heads, and that was enough for me to identify till the cows come home.

So of course when Netgalley had Yang's new book, The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball, I snapped it up. I didn't expect it to appeal to me in quite the same soul-grabbing way, and it doesn't; our hero Leon - this is the Anglicized version of his name Woo Ka-Leong - is far more interested in trains and baseball than making up stories.

But it's still fun - a peek at an interesting period of history. Leon and his brother Ka-Sun (Anglicized to Carson) are part of the Chinese Educational Mission, an actual historical occurrence when the Chinese government sent 120 boys to the US to learn about American technology. Leon and his love of trains are a godsend for the program.

His older brother, on the other hand, is kind of a nightmare. All he ever wanted was to be a classical Chinese scholar, at which he is brilliant; but instead he's sent to America, where he discovers that he's way less brilliant at learning English, and the one-two punch to his identity is too much and he plunges into a depressive homesick spiral that he mostly takes out on poor Leon.

Eventually he cuts off his queue (which is a symbol of loyalty to the emperor) because he's so desperately homesick that he's willing to disgrace himself to get sent back to China?

He's not going to be allowed to become a classical Chinese scholar, which is all he ever wanted. What is he going to do? Is there anything for him to do but sit in the family home and slowly drink himself to death, as everyone wanders around and clucks "Well he's disgraced the family anyway, who cares"?



This part of the book is rather dark. However, it's balanced well by Leon's growing love of baseball and his friendships with his teammates (particularly another member of the Chinese Educational Mission, who arrived in the country a couple years before Leon and helps him understand the peculiarities of Americans). And all the boys in the mission get to go the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia! How cool is that? Okay, maybe it's only super cool if you share my obsession with World's Fairs, but I thought it was the bee's knees.
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