For me as a Christian, reading Boxers and Saints was hard. The story highlights mistakes Christians have made through history, especially in their association with politics, power, and wars.
But it does it in a simple and beautiful way. The story arch is simple and direct.
In the first volume, the story of the leader “Little Bao”* from the Boxer Rebellion, in China, is told. It shows the struggle of his town and family under the oppression of “foreign devils:” westerners and Christians. And so we follow Little Bao’s rise to military power against the oppressors; he learns Kung Fu and how to “harness” powers from the Chinese gods.
Mixing mythology and day-to-day happenings, the book took me alongside the rise and downfall of the revolution. I cheered for them to some degree, I understood their suffering and pain, but soon began to see the inevitable end approaching under Bao’s leadership.
The art is clean with a consistent style and adds to that simplicity of the narrative. Bold lines, blocked in colors and simple shadows. The art can be celebrated for its ability to convey so much through so little. It enables the reader to tread quickly through the story, never losing sight of the plot.
Once Boxer ends, one cannot feel the sadness sinking in, was anything actually accomplished?
In Saints we follow a parallel story to Boxers, the story of Four.* Four is a girl with whom Bao has a brief encounter in Boxers. She is an outcast within her and family, who wants to become a Christian to get free food and to become a “devil” – or a Christian. She eventually also starts having visions of Joan D’Arc, whom she begins to look up to as source of inspiration and strength.
As her story is told we sympathize with her, and even with her wrong childish motives. We already know the end of her story, for it appears in Boxers. But we’re still curious: how will she change and become the character we saw in Boxers? And I’ll add, there was a minor surprise I didn’t see coming at the end of Saints.
As everything goes, I couldn’t help but feel deep sorrow for all the deaths and suffering on both sides. The two stories together drive in us a sense of empathy – that neither side was truly right nor wrong, that our world is just…broken. Yang’s writing breaks the notion of us vs. them. It felt like a story needed in today’s political scenario. For that reason, I hope many people will yet read it.
* Little Bao and Four as far as I understand do not represent real historical figures.
You can buy the two graphic novels through my affiliate links! Boxers and Saints, by Gene Luen Yang. That’ll help me keep the blog going, and keep me motivated! Plus I just really recommend these books. They’re great!
Another book I’ve read, some time ago, was Gene L. Yang’s book American Born Chinese. I read Boxers and Saints in the first place because of this graphic novel. Another awesome recommendation!