As the Earth Turns Silver
by Alison Wong
It is seldom that New Zealand’s cultural exports (with the notable exception of the wonderful Flight of the Conchords!) get international recognition, so it was with interest that I began reading this novel about love and racial prejudice in Wellington. Set in the early twentieth century, AS THE EARTH TURNS SILVER is a haunting tale about two very different families whose destinies become entangled with inevitably tragic consequences.
It is the eve of the First World War and Yung and and his older brother, Shun, are immigrants from rural China living in Wellington where they run a shop that sells fruit and vegetables. For years they have worked tirelessly to build up the business: keeping the place spotless; fostering good customer relations; even lovingly polishing the apples. All the while they have been sending money home to support their families, including their wives, left at home to care for children and elderly relations. This enforced separation takes its toll and Shun installs a concubine while Yung finds himself falling in love with Katherine, a young widow who comes to the shop.
The death of her husband, an overbearing, bigoted newspaperman, had left Katherine as sole provider for two children. Aware of her difficulties, Yung quietly adds extra items to her shopping bag and Katherine, initially touched by his generosity, becomes drawn to his gentle manners and quiet kindness. Eventually, they give way to their feelings and embark on a clandestine affair. However, it is the eve of the First World War and, in the patriotic fervour, there is scant sympathy for immigrants. Yung and Katherine’s liaison puts them at enormous risk.
Alison Wong was born and raised in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, after her great grandparents on both sides migrated from China’s Guangdong province in the 1980s. She has an emerging reputation as a poet and her love of language is evident in this, her first, novel.