Thursday, May 6, 2010

Literary Bite: The Ginger Tree

I'm still not sure what to make of this book. It's a silly story, but with higher ambitions. So should I say it's a "good" book, ignoring the fact that the author attempted to make it a "great" book and fell flat? Or should I condemn it for trying to provide subtle social commentary and ultimately coming off as trite?
I choose the former. Because though I probably won't recommend anyone read The Ginger Tree
by Oswald Wynd, I wouldn't deter anyone from reading it either.

It's the story of a 20-year-old Scotswoman (Mary) who sails to China at the turn of the century to marry her betrothed. However, she falls for a Japanese man, cheats on her husband, and is ultimately thrown out of her home and forced to make her own way in the Far East without the support of her family or the European community.

I like the context of this book. Mary arrived in China just after the Boxer Rebellion in Peking, a city divvied up by its European occupiers. She eventually makes her way to Japan, and lives there through WWI, the Tokyo earthquake of 1923, and into WWII.

My problem with this book is that instead of liking the protagonist more and more, I came to despise her. It's almost a wanna-be feminist novel. Mary is cognoscente of the unfair treatment of women in both European and Japanese society...but she continues to let herself be treated like a doormat, even when she doesn't have to! I just felt like she had absolutely no not quite the "spellbinding odyssey of one woman's strength and spirit in the face of terrifying odds" like the back cover promises.

I realize that books aren't always designed to make you
like the main character...but something just seemed off about Mary, and her character didn't ring true for me.

Read a review here.
About the Author here.

And oh hey, it was a TV Mini-Series in 1989.