Book Review: Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang

Dragon Springs Road photoBook Review by Susan Oakey-Baker

Janie Chang, local Vancouver author of the celebrated novel Three Souls, tackles racism, women’s rights, belonging and what we will ultimately do to survive, in this enchanting historical novel about an abandoned child and a fox spirit living on an ancient Chinese estate.

At the turn of the century, amidst the chaos of China’s early republic, seven year-old Jialing is abandoned on a rundown estate, a rickshaw ride away from Shanghai. Ling-ling, as her mother calls her, is Chinese Eurasian and openly scorned by Chinese and Westerners alike. She is an outsider in her own country. To survive, she becomes the bondservant of the new Chinese family who moves in.

Never losing hope of finding her mother, Jialing seeks counsel and strength from the fox spirit who appears to her in human and animal forms. Determined to escape the fate of the underclass, she goes to school. The deck is stacked against her though as murder, political intrigue and an affair threaten her life and the man she loves.

Janie Chang weaves her family history of ancestors, dragons, ghosts and spirits into her novels. She enchants the reader with her rich lyrical portrayal of an old China that dances elegantly between the spiritual and the earthly worlds. The reader smells the frothy pink and white blooms of the fruit trees in the courtyard where Jialing lives. The reader feels the soft fur of the fox spirit as she grooms herself. The reader’s heart aches when Jialing suffers.

Chang invites us to acknowledge and embrace an unwanted, socially condemned underclass, and in the process further examine our relationship to our own identity and what we would ultimately do to survive.

Janie Chang will be reading at the Historical Fiction event June 29, 7pm at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler, with authors Janie Chang, Roberta Rich and Jennifer Robson.Tickets are available here.

Susan Oakey-Baker is a writer, teacher, painter and guide living in Whistler. Her memoir, Finding Jim (Rocky Mountain Books 2013), is available at fine bookstores including Armchair and online. Look for her latest novel about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro available soon. See her website: susanoakeybaker.com.