Wednesday, 27 January 2016
In A Land Of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie
review by Maryom
At the age of six, Henrietta S. Robertson left behind her home in Pingxia village, her Chinese name, Ming-Mei, by which she'd so far been called, and her missionary parents, to go to boarding school while her parents continued their work. The story picks up in 1941, when "Etta" is ten, and the Japanese are advancing through China, and even Lushan school on top of its remote mountain is beginning to feel threatened. Despite being surrounded every day by the other pupils and teachers, Etta comes across as lonely and confused. Her search for love and attention draws her into over-dramatising events and claiming she has the gift of prophesy. With the other girls from her dormitory, she sets up the Prophetess Club to look for signs from God - but their actions seem to be heading them straight towards trouble .....
Told mainly in the first person from Etta's point of view, In A Land of Paper Gods is the story of a girl who realises something is missing from her life - but isn't sure what; it may be the love and stability offered by a 'normal' family, the purpose in life that the missionaries and teachers seem to have, or simply her uncomplicated childhood playing with the Chinese children in her home village. To be honest, I didn't find Etta very likeable. Although I could see that at times she was acting out of loneliness, she had too much of a need to be the focus of attention for me to feel really sympathetic. It's only when events take a drastic turn that she begins to shed this self-centred-ness and realise that others have as much right to life and love as she has.
With the multitude of threads running through, this is bound to make an excellent book club choice with lots of topics to discuss - from cultural clashes to personal motivation.
Is Etta deliberately troublesome, attention seeking or does she act out of loneliness, and a need of someone, anyone, to love? are these problems that will always be faced in boarding schools, or were Etta's teachers just totally unaware of the emotional needs of the children they'd taken charge of?
The whole role of missionaries in non-Christian countries like China is again something worthy of discussion - were they really following God's will or was it just another form of imperial expansion? and is it ever right to impose your own religion and culture on others in this way?
A book I think to really polarise people and get them talking and thinking.
Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Tinder Press
Genre - Adult fiction,