Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang

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Do you really want to know what it’s like to be a Fox? Her voice echoed in my head, amused. And I settled inside this memory, seeing what Fox wanted to show me. I was myself and I was also Fox.

When Jialing’s mother fails to return after leaving her alone in an abandoned home, she is left hungry and scared. A child of mixed race in 1908, a shameful thing , she will find refuge as a servant for the new owners. The idea of a young girl on her own, making her way in an effort to survive is heart-wrenching. The spirit in Jialing is moving, considering her fragile age. I cannot imagine myself in her shoes having the sense to find help, having grown up in a sheltered culture as I did. Why did the last family leave so abruptly? Is that the reason her mother is gone, is her disappearance tied to them? Her father remains a shadow, a mystery and a burden to carry his ethnicity when she never even knew him. The section of the place where she lives has been said to be haunted. But for Jialing, it’s always just been home.  In comes the Fox Spirit, whom her mother had respected and prayed to. The fox will guide her through her journey as she comes of age. She is at times able to become the fox, at least in spirit and mind. The Fox is the magical realism within the novel, taking the reader back through history.

We come to learn that zazhong is to be shunned (being a  Euroasian, mixed child) and even more so when Jialing’s mother is a known prostitute. But what we know is not always what is true. The mysterious disappearance of her beloved mother is stranger than even Jialing’s friendship with an English girl whom also disappears. Jilaing’s mother often left for amounts of time to be with her male friend, and Jialing was not to be seen. Keeping her hidden, Jialing’s life until her mother’s disappearance has been within the walls of her dwelling. Her friend’s vanishing is different, one she actually witnesses. She knows her friend went somewhere better, didn’t she? When Jialing is granted the opportunity to go to school because of the Yang family’s grandmother (a matriarch to be sure) there seems to be hope. Can the fate of the mixed race children be altered through education, a chance to escape prostitution and the choices their mother’s made that brought such shame on them? Then one has to wonder, what choice was there for such mothers? Why did their mother’s keep company with men and sell themselves? What can one do when the the alternative is to go hungry and have nowhere to live.

There are magical elements that were beautifully written, not with the Fox spirit alone but in explaining what happened to Jialing’s dear friend. There are culture clashes, moral ambiguity, heartbreak, shocks, cruelty, innocence, murder and so much heart. The reader will unravel each mystery of every vivid character within the novel and chew on every choice and consequence that comes of it. How much of what happens is fate, really- and what can we do with what we’re given? The decisions are a thread that ties everyone together, some for better, others for worse.  There is something charming and beautiful about Asian folklore and mythology. The wisdom and insight is ripe for gorgeous storytelling as Janie Chang has created in Dragon Springs Road.

Publication Date: January 10, 2017

William Marrow

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