Oracle Bone

This reading project means I pick up some unexpected books. Sure, I expect some specific themes and concepts: a morality tale for children, a coming of age tale for teens. Plenty of historical fiction. Canadiana. Women having a meltdown—because people can’t seem to get over that as a trope. Canadian north. Victory snatched for the jaws of defeat—or not. The usual scenes that play out in books, no matter how well disguised. They are there if you dig. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s part of the reason we read books, to find the familiar, to tie it back to our own experiences. To find meaning in our lives, or at least an explanation.

I have a pile of books by my chair, and I pick whatever appeals to me in a given moment. Oracle Bone, by Vancouver based writer Lydia Kwa sat in the pile for less time than I expected. Sometimes, I expect to force myself to read certain titles, but Kwa’s book sat there going ‘oh haiiii.’

Set in 7th Century China, the book is surprisingly modern: under-estimated women, people struggling with their sexuality, rulers with questionable end goals and lousy leadership skills.

Having finished it, I still ponder it. It reads in slices, and years pass in the flip of a page. Good versus evil plays out with subtlety, instead of a whack on the head. The differences are softly delivered, even while the differences are clear and precise.

It reads like myth, or a fable, or a story told out loud and written down later. It’s part fairy tale, part history. The characters act—for the most most part, they don’t overly emote. They do what is necessary. And no one’s story is complete. I am left with the sense that they are just beginning.

Lydia Kwa was at Event 81 (Trips to the Other World) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.

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