In the first decade of the 20th century, a small number of Chinese emigrants found their way to New Zealand, where they were subjected to racial prejudice and abuse. Wong’s first novel makes a fiction out of a secret love affair between shopkeeper Wung and local widow Katherine, whose husband, a tabloid newspaper editor, was one of the leading agitators against the Chinese. It is strong material for a potemtioally enthralling and moving commercial novel, but Wong seems set on a more ponderous tone and has somehow managed to write an illicit love affair ending in a vicious murder that fails to have any dramatic tension whatsoever. Not all novels have to be page-turners, but the language Wong employs is so determinedly poetic, so wilfully evocative as to be essentially meaningless. (“She felt like a poplar – orange leaves rustling in a dazzling blue sky.” What can it mean?) The jacket image may well attract fans of Sadie Jones’s The Outcast, but anyone expecting similar melodrama will be disappointed.
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