Dragon Springs Road offers enchanting historical novel that tackles identity

Catch author Janie Chang at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre on Thursday (June 29) as part of reading series

The Whistler Writing Society will be hosting a reading event called Historical Fiction on Thursday (June 29) as part of its Spring Reading Series moderated by CBC’s Sheryl MacKay with authors Janie Chang, Kate Quinn, Roberta Rich and Jennifer Robson, all of whom blend history and storytelling.

On Friday, (June 30) catch Sea to Sky Discovery: A Storytelling Celebration, featuring writers Joan Haggerty, Susan Juby, Bev Sellars and Paul Watson. Tickets to each event are $22 available at whistlerwritersfest.com.

The following is a review of Janie Chang’s Dragon Springs Road.

Janie Chang, local Vancouver author of the celebrated novel Three Souls, tackles racism, women’s rights, belonging and what we will ultimately do to survive, in this enchanting historical novel about an abandoned child and a fox spirit living on an ancient Chinese estate.

At the turn of the century, amidst the chaos of China’s early republic, seven year-old Jialing is abandoned on a rundown estate, a rickshaw ride away from Shanghai. Ling-ling, as her mother calls her, is Chinese Eurasian and openly scorned by Chinese and Westerners alike.

She is an outsider in her own country. To survive, she becomes the bondservant of the new Chinese family who moves in.
Never losing hope of finding her mother, Jialing seeks counsel and strength from the fox spirit who appears to her in human and animal forms. Determined to escape the fate of the underclass, she goes to school. The deck is stacked against her though as murder, political intrigue and an affair threaten her life and the man she loves.

Chang weaves her family history of ancestors, dragons, ghosts and spirits into her novels. She enchants the reader with her rich lyrical portrayal of an old China that dances elegantly between the spiritual and the earthly worlds. The reader smells the frothy pink and white blooms of the fruit trees in the courtyard where Jialing lives. The reader feels the soft fur of the fox spirit as she grooms herself. The reader’s heart aches when Jialing suffers.

Chang invites us to acknowledge and embrace an unwanted, socially condemned underclass, and in the process further examine our relationship to our own identity and what we would ultimately do to survive.

Dragon Springs Road is available in all fine bookstores and on Chang’s website janiechang.com.

Susan Oakey-Baker is a writer, teacher, painter and guide living in Whistler. Her memoir, Finding Jim (Rocky Mountain Books 2013), is available at fine bookstores including Armchair and online. Look for her latest novel about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro available soon. See her website: susanoakeybaker.com.

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