Saint John Don Bosco:

"Never read books you aren't sure about . . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?"

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

"Now wife," Ba said, "stories cost us nothing."
"And gain us nothing as well," Ma said.
There was a stony silence as Ba looked sadly into his rice bowl. Minli
tugged at his sleeve.
"Please, Ba?" she said.
Ma shook her head and sighed, but said nothing. So Ba began...

Ba tells another story to his daughter through which they pass time in a world that Ma cannot appreciate since she is so taken up with the struggles of this world. The lessons and the entertainment of the tales help Minli and her father see beyond their drab and brown life of sustenance-living in their small village.

Minli's love of her father's stories comes to fruition when she buys a goldfish from a passing merchant and releases him into the river after her mother's sorrowful complaint that they cannot feed even a fish. Upon release, the fish speaks to Minli. He tells her where to find the Man of the Moon who appears in her father's stories.

The story now becomes a folk-tale within folk-tales as Minli sets off on a pursuit of The Man of the Moon and a change of fortune… encountering dragons, kings, and trials in her quest. Each character she meets tells a story and these are woven seamlessly into the main story.

”Stories are not foolish, “ Ba said again, in his quiet way.
“Says you!” Ma said….Making her believe she could change our miserable
fortune with an impossible story! Ridiculous!"
"Yes," Ba said sadly, "It is impossible. But it is not ridiculous."

As good folk tales do, we’re taught about the foibles of man and the virtues that help overcome them. The brave and bold Minli makes her way to the Man of the Moon with help from fellow men and animals.

Visually speaking, the colors and pictures drew me to the story. The book cover is beautiful Asian art in vivid blue and red. The chapters have small pictures above them and are in colored ink (though the text of the story is standard black-and-white). Throughout, there are full-page colored illustrations in Asian-style art. I’ll read on a Kindle, but I do love the feel and look of books, and this was particularly satisfying.

At the end, the author Grace Lin explains a bit about her experience as an Asian-American, and how her mother left Chinese fairy/folk tale books around, knowing her daughter would pick them up and learn something of the Asian culture which she had not embraced as an American child. She writes, “It is a fantasy inspired by the Chinese folktales that enchanted me in my youth and the land and culture that fascinates me in my adulthood. I hope there is magic in it for you as well…"

There was. And I hope there is in here for you as well.

“Oh, nothing,” Ba said. “It’s just a story.”
The wind blew gently, like the calming touch of a healer. “I wouldn’t mind
hearing it, " Ma said...
Ba looked at her, surprised, and then nodded with a small smile...



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