Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

I had wanted to read this as soon as I saw the publication release.  The Boxer Rebellion is a sad footnote of Chinese history and I had never seen it addressed in such a unique way.  Author Yang draws from historical, cultural, and mystical sources to give a complete yet accurate story, beautifully presented in full color panels.

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Where this really succeeds is to give perspective, even if very simplified for graphic novel format, of the viewpoint of the Boxers themselves.  The grounds of the rebellion, the appeal of the deities and mysticism (they believed they were imbued with supernatural powers from the gods), and the strengths and weakness of the movement are well depicted through the trials of a very small group of villagers. We are given a ground zero voice in the form of Bao, a villager who would end up leading the rebellion to the gates of Peking, as well as those who chose to accompany or impede him.  Even more interesting are the women in the story who are also given a very strong voice and perspective.  The Rebellion was not fought by men alone and Yang’s characters are conflicted and nuanced.

I learned quite a lot reading this.  The story and art were aesthetically sparse and easy to follow. It’s only when I read up more about the Rebellion that I realized how much information was contained in this book through a fairly simple story.

If I rate this a 4 star instead of 5 star review, it is because the author didn’t pull together the story at the end in a satisfying manner.  We know the Rebellion fails in history but we’re never really given a reason why the ‘gods’ deserted the Boxers in Peking. For me, the heart of the story was that tragic finale – and the spin the author could put on it as to why the ‘foreign devils’ won.  But it seems he shied away from that in the last – leaving me feeling very unsatisfied.

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