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Review: White Horse; Yan Ge

White-Horse

White Horse

Hope Road Publishing, RRP £1.19, Suitable for ages 12-16

Publishers blurb:

“Yun Yun lives in a small West China town with her widowed father, and an uncle, aunt and older cousin who live nearby. One day, her once-secure world begins to fall apart. Through her eyes, we observe her cousin, Zhang Qing, keen to dive into the excitements of adolescence but clashing with repressive parents. Ensuing tensions reveal that the relationships between the two families are founded on a terrible lie”.

I like to think of books in translation as cultural exchange. They are an opportunity to experience the worlds that we are separated from by language; to visit cultures that may seem alien to us and to learn. With White Horse we get to visit a culture that is, literally, half a world a way, and in it we find that while culture and experience may separate us, humanity is universal.

This short novella, translated by Nicky Harman, peeks behind the closed doors and whispered conversations of a restrictive family environment to uncover the secrets within. It is a story that could happen in Paris, France or Paris, Texas. It could be Newcastle, New South Wales; Newcastle Tyne and Wear or Newcastle KwaZulu-Natal.  This time, though, it takes place in small town China. The cultural landscape is evoked beautifully and in the usual way – though food. Descriptions of meals, cooking and treats shared evoke the setting while character is revealed through dialogue. Yan’s characters have depth, warmth and humour, though they’re not always likeable.

White Horse is ultimately an entwicklungsroman, chronicling the growing sexual awareness of Yun Yun and her cousin, both in their own lives and the lives of others. As naïveté gives way to knowledge, the conservative hypocrisies and generational differences of the modern family is revealed. Yan’s real skill lies in her protagonists treatment of this situation; it is difficult to tell how much Yun Yun understands or even cares.

To delve to much in the the imagary of White Horse would be to give too much away;  this is a cerebral novella, reminiscent of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry or  Jostein Gaarder, but it is difficult to dicuss the narrative without at least touching on it. Chess appears as a motif and metaphor throughout the 30 page e-book but the major symbolic component is of course the white horse, a stalwart feature of both mythological and historical storytelling in China. Yun Yun processes the discomfort she encounters by envisioning (or perhaps hallucinating) a white horse, lending an air of magic realism to the tale. Gonsun Long’s famous paradox (can it be that a white horse is not a horse?*) is also recalled in the conflict of the story. Names and why we are who we are are not explicitly discussed but are alluded to. Perhaps Yun Yun needs to grow up a little bit before she can really tackle those questions.

With strong characterisation and some wonderful turns of phrase, White Horse is a quick but affecting read. 8/10.

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* Don’t be fooled, the fact that I am aware this paradox exists means that I understand it. I don’t. Not even a little bit.

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[Guest Post] Dr. Meg Barker on Winnie the Pooh.

EH Shepherd's Winnie the Pooh

EH Shepherd's Winnie the Pooh

I’ve asked some of my friends and favourite bloggers to write about their favourite books from childhood.  There’ll hopefully be a few posts like this – if I can convince other people to take up the challenge. If you’d like to join in, email me.

Today Dr Meg Barker, author and professional clever person, talks about character identification, relationships and getting the metaphorical jar off your head.

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Trigger warning: discussion of relationship conflict and brief mention of abusive situations.

Tigger warning: not mentioned at all, sorry Tigger.

Some of my favourite stories from childhood were the Winnie-the-Pooh collections by A. A. Milne. Particularly I remember being read these tales by my Gran when she visited. They were an important part of our relationship.

I like the fact that different family relationships are linked, in my memory, to different stories. The stories both defined the storyteller, for me, and passed on something that shapes who I am today. My other Gran made up her own stories (rather like A. A. Milne did), whilst I associate my Mum with Beatrix Potter and my Dad with Sherlock Holmes. Both of these latter figures continued to resonate through my later life, Beatrix Potter through the wonderful Bryan Talbot graphic novel about survival, The Tale of One Bad Rat, and Sherlock Holmes as the characters of Holmes and Watson provided models, for me, of what it was possible to become, and what was important in a relationship. I love seeing the ways in which these characters are reinterpreted through each new movie, story, or TV programme, all of which capture something of them however different they are. Winnie-the-Pooh, however, only seems to work for me in the original.

As a child I think I enjoyed Winnie-the-Pooh particularly because in those stories a solitary kid was able to have an exciting life and lots of great relationships. Whist the stories of Enid Blyton, for example, left me feeling lonely and different for not having a wonderful gang of friends to go off on adventures with, Christopher Robin (in the books at least) was able to manage it for himself with his toys and his imagination. Perhaps for that reason they are a good set of stories for any kid who doesn’t fit.

The stories haven’t stopped being useful to me as I’ve grown older. Rather they’ve stayed alongside me, offering me something new at each stage. With several partners the tales have been a comforting mutual place to return when life becomes scary. There can hardly be a safer place for me than curled up under a duvet with a soothing voice telling about the hundred acre wood, haycorns, and expotitions. Read the rest of this entry