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As the Earth Turns Silver by Alison Wong

It is a book by a New Zealand Author,… No, let me do this again, it is the book cover that attracts my attention when it was displayed in the library shelf. 🙂

A good cover does attracts, but it is not a be all or end all for me. I do base my quick decision on the blurb. If I have the time, I’ll do secondary research on google and hear what people say about the book, before I borrow or buy it.

How do you make your decision when  you are at the library or browsing through the book store display?

I digress, back to the book!

It is New Zealand, at the first decade of the twentieth century, just before the WWI. Katherine McKechnie is struggling to raise two children Robbie and Edie (her daughter) following the death of her abusive husband, Donald. A chance encounter with a Chinese shopkeeper, Wong Chun-Yung, blossoms into friendship and, eventually, love.

Racial tension and prejudice mean the two must keep their relationship clandestine. The poignant description of the moonlight against the earth and the draw of these two very different people was the best part of the book, I thought. Soon Katherine’s son, Robbie, learns the truth and on the eve of World War I as young men everywhere are swept up on a tide of macho patriotism, takes his family’s honour into his own hands – with devastating consequences.

Perhaps Alison’s forte is poetry that this book is written in short chapters that made very easy reading. This causes some problem with me as these short chapters made the book feel very fragmented. I am not sure if the chapters about Yung’s brother and his wives or concubine add any weight in this whole matter, in fact it felt very peripheral to the central characters.

Then the spurts of history lessons about Chinese revolution and World War II (also the mention of the murder a Chinese man which took place at the Haning street of Wellington which the story is loosely based upon), women suffrage etc emerge. All these little twists on historical events were made to convey some importance to the story which happened at the turn of the 19th century, yet it feels pretentious as it attempts to act out a repertoire of Atonement by Ian McEwan, only with less emotional impact than a great historical or war saga could do.

There isn’t much of a plot in this book but Wong deftly handles the tones between two very different narratives of the Chinese and the Westerners. She uses the colloquial English voice of the Chinese to narrate the past of the grocer’s family and polished English for natives of Wellington, which I thought is a skill of an accomplished writer. The playfulness of languages and the subtleness of the unsaid is also good.

Don’t expect this book to end well, but a book ending bad has not deter me from loving it in the past. Reflecting on my two polarised views, I couldn’t decide whether I like the book or not.  It is a compelling read but I wouldn’t call it remarkable. The book cover however, I admit is remarkably captivating with regards to the photography. Misty and grey, with the right colour balance.

 (3.5 stars)

Have you read this? Do you know of any other New Zealand authors (besides Lloyd Jones of Mister Pip) that you would recommend?


Winner of Janet Frame Fiction Award 2009.
Winner of New Zealand Post Book Awards: Fiction 2010.
Shortlisted for PANZ Book Design Awards: Best Cover 2010.

GC Books Introduction to the book

Paperback. Publisher: Picador 2010 ; Length: 272 pages; Setting: 1905 – 1922 Wellington, New Zealand. Source: Library copy. Finished reading on: 16 April 2011.

About the Writer:

Wong has received various awards for her fiction and poetry including the 2002 Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago, a Readers Digest – New Zealand Society of Authors Fellowship at the Stout Research Centre and a NZ Founders Society Research Award. She has been a finalist in several poetry competitions and received grants from Creative NZ and the Willi Fels Memorial Trust.

In 2003 she has been a guest writer at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival and the Wordstruck! Festival in Dunedin, as well as a speaker for the Stout Research Centre Chinese New Zealand Seminar Series. In 2001 together with Linzy Forbes (her husband), she received a Porirua City Council Civic Honour Award for co-founding and running Poetry Cafe.

Her first poetry collection, Cup, was released in February 2006 by Steele Roberts. It was shortlisted for a poetry prize in the Montana Book awards.

Her first novel As the Earth Turns Silver was published in late June 2009 by Penguin NZ and has also been listed in the NZ Post Book Awards and is on the shortlist for the Australian PM’s Book Awards.


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


15 thoughts on “As the Earth Turns Silver by Alison Wong

  1. As to New Zealand authors-of course there is Katherine Mansfield-you can read all of her stories online-I also love the novels I have read by Krtisty Gunn and give her work my total endorsement-

    Posted by Mel u | April 17, 2011, 8:54 am
  2. Very good reason to pick a book from the shelf, the cover is usually what attracts my attention as well. First impressions and such! 🙂 I also look at the title, publishing logo and the author of course, then the summary (though that seems to be a dying form). But if the cover turns me off, I might not gie a book a chance for quite some time.

    The time fame and racial and gender issue in the book interest me, so I might give it a try 🙂

    Posted by Bina | April 17, 2011, 8:16 pm
    • Bina, cover doesn’t mean that much to me but the typeset means a lot! If I open up a book and see congested font types and small line spacing, no matter how great it is, I’ll abandon it. This usually happens with Classics or old books. 🙂

      Posted by JoV | April 25, 2011, 8:21 pm
  3. Patrica grace and wasn’t Nagio Marsh from new zealand ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | April 18, 2011, 11:10 pm
  4. My decision process is more or less in line with yours. That’s why we are friends … heh.

    Seriously, mine does.

    Posted by Wilfrid Wong | April 20, 2011, 12:11 am
  5. I agree, the cover is stunning! I usually have a “shopping list” when I visit my library, but occasionally I do pick up books that have an interesting cover (with an accompanying interesting blurb of course ;))

    This book definitely sounds like it’s right up my alley. And, correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think a (overseas) Chinese author has written such a novel yet. First generation overseas Chinese authors are usually about the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and second generation overseas Chinese are usually occupied with identity issues.

    Posted by Chinoiseries | April 25, 2011, 7:11 pm
    • Chinoiseries, wow shopping list. I actually don’t. I just go for anything that fancy me in the library, which also why I came out with loads of books!
      I definitely agree with you on this one. I am tired of hearing about Cultural Revolution or horrors of the Communist regime. It make it sound as if Chinese Lit = Cultural Revolution = horrors of Communism when there are a wide range of things that Chinese Lit (in the original Mandarin language) wrote about. I’ll be interested to read books by Chinese who writes about other topics than Cultural Revolution. Good spot on that one, big thanks! 😀

      Posted by JoV | April 25, 2011, 8:35 pm
  6. Of course, the book cover does attracts and thanks for introducing me to a New Zealand author. Have not read any book from that end.

    Posted by Geosi | April 26, 2011, 11:33 am


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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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