As The Earth Turns Silver – Alison Wong

Chosen by Jo

The story and struggles of two entwined settler families in early 20th-Century NZ, one English, the other Chinese.

◉ “Chinese immigrant brothers Yung and Shun are greengrocers in Wellington in the early 1900s. They support their families back home and try to adapt to their adopted home in order to survive and prosper.

“Katherine McKechnie struggles to raise her rebellious son and her daughter following the death of her husband, Donald. A strident right-wing newspaperman, Donald terrorised his family.

“One day, Katherine comes to Yung’s shop and is touched by the Chinaman’s unexpected generosity. Over time a relationship develops between the immigrant and the widow, one which breaks all of the societal norms of the time.

“The setting is gloriously accurate with the look and feel of inner city Wellington realistic to those familiar with the area. Kwangtung, China, Dunedin and the battlefields of the Western Front also feature.

“This book won the Janet Frame Fiction Award in 2009.”

He came from behind and held her in his arms, told her to look again at the earth and sky and water. Could she see how the world turned silver? People died, he told her, because they were afraid. They did not go out at night on dangerous water. They did not see the earth as it turned overnight to silver.

◉ “As The Earth Turns Silver has all the hallmarks of a classic Kiwi novel, yet it focuses on a story few have told, that of the struggles of migrant Asian families. The juxtaposition of their historical traditions versus a new Western life played out compellingly. As such I was entertained but also educated about another aspect of our country’s history. The mellifluous writing style ensures a measured reading pace and the storyline doesn’t disappoint.” – Rachel

◉ “This is a tragic love story which explores themes of racism and oppression. A refreshing change for a NZ novel to delve into early Chinese life and culture and I had no idea that Chinese immigrants were thought of so poorly and treated in such an appalling way by the British. Although Katherine suffers oppression, Chinese women were subject to miserable existences that made Katherine’s situation appear much more privileged. Beautifully written with wonderful characters both good and detestable. I loved it.” – Jo

Published 2009
Penguin Books
288 pages

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