Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dragonwings by Laurence Yep

I read about fifty pages of this book waiting for the freaking dragons to show up. When, around page 100, they finally did, it was one dragon in a dream sequence and it didn't breath fire on any villages or gobble up any damsels or anything like that, and didn't appear for the rest of the book. What.

Dragonwings is one of Yep's Golden Mountain series, a collection of books that follow the stories of a loosely related group of Chinese immigrants from the 19th century to modern times. As you would know if you were in my honors English class, "Golden Mountain" is a term that Chinese immigrants of the turn of the century used to denote America, which is either a serious mistake or a metaphor. This story in particular is about Moon Shadow, a young boy who is sent over to San Francisco from China to join his father, whom he has never really known.

His father, Windrider (ugh), confides in his son that he had a dream in which it was revealed to him that he used to be a dragon--in fact, the physician to the king of dragons--and that is why he's so skilled in repairing machines and why he has an insatiable desire to fly, if not in the dragon way than in the way of the Wright Brothers who have recently flown their first airplane.

I think the conflict is interesting enough--Windrider dreams of building a functional airplane, while facing rank prejudice and abject poverty--but the whole novel has an Afterschool Special vibe to it that's very off-putting. Windrider and Moon Shadow are wafer-thin as characters, and spend a lot of time learning Very Special Lessons about the world around them. The prose is blandly undescriptive and spends a lot of time over-explaining cultural phenomena, and as a result reads more like a textbook than a novel. I'm pretty sure that if I were twelve I would have put this book down long before I finished it. Unless, like I did at twenty-two, I read through the entire thing waiting for some more freaking dragons.

Side note: Statistically speaking, Laurence Yep is the second-most famous Asian person with an interjection for a surname, after Bond villain Dr. No.


Nathan said...

Man, just the other day I was trying to remember the name of this book. I read it in middle school and loved it.

Nathan said...

Incidentally, a "golden mountain" is something you can get at certain massage parlors if you've got the cash and know who to ask.