Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Last week I shared my thoughts on the Boxers half of the Boxer Rebellion (Boxers). There's a companion volume to the beautifully drawn graphic novel Boxers, and that is Saints. Early in Boxers, little Bao sees a girl and falls in love at first sight. She's not a happy child and she's being dragged away by an older relative. She's got plenty of reasons to not be happy and to have not taken notice of Bao when they passed one another.
Bao fell in love with her because her face reminded him of the opera masks that the actors wore in the plays he so enjoyed. Four-Girl, was never given a real name. As the fourth child, and a girl to boot, she was less than welcomed and lauded. The reason her face appeared mask-like to Baw was because Four-Girl made a point of keeping on her most horrible face when in public.
When she has been treated poorly one time too many she takes off and stumbles across a Chinese man who has converted to Catholicism. While he takes her in and tries to teach her about the religion, she is only there for the free cookies. After eating her fill, she returns home. Later, she goes back looking for the cookies and stays for the religion. She learns that she can take a new name at Baptism and she becomes Vibiana. She's a devout little newbie Catholic, who is visited by the ghost of Joan of Arc, although she doesn't know who she is or why she's seeing her.
Christianity, in Four-Girl/Vibiana's case is a chance for her to have a life, to do some good and serve a purpose. Through her we see that there is so much more to the missionaries and what they've brought to China than corruption and thievery and a disrespect for the Chinese, their culture and their beliefs. As I said in my review of Boxers, it is very one sided. This was ideal for the author to tell that side of the story and like Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, lets the reader see that just because we believe differently, doesn't mean that we believe correctly. I am Catholic, officially, and I have nothing against my religion. I even understand how missionaries can go to other nations with the idea that they can spread the love around. Mr. Yang shows the best of each side in each book.
I know religion is the diciest of subjects. I truly believe that most of the real religions, the way they were initially intended and worshipped are all the same. For a very amusing and touching look at this idea, check out Christopher Moore's Lamb. In fact, as each new religion came and took the place of the one before (before we just started secting out all over the place) the old religious symbols and beliefs were incorporated into the new. It's not until relatively recently that the changes in religions seem to be so creepy and mean spirited.
Here, Mr. Yang gives us the two sides of the story and from either perspective, the other guy can look pretty bad. As far as war goes, and although short and not so much a war, but comprised of armies and warlike violence, so I stand by my comparison, no matter what side you are on, no matter who is the aggressor, everyone involved is simply a human. By that, I mean, they are all filled with good and bad qualities, none are perfect and none are perfectly evil.
I doubt that I am clearly making my point, so don't bother taking my word for it. See for yourself. I recommend that you read both books, they are beautifully drawn, well written and give a reader plenty to think about.