Outside in World | Browse Books
Use our Book Finder to search for books by Title (or part of the title), Author, ISBN, Age Range, Keyword, or Continent/Country. Then simply click the magnifying glass to start your search.
‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Yan Ge
Age Range: 12+
Ten-year-old narrator Yun Yun lives in a small town in Western China with her widowed father, who seems uninterested in his daughter spending most of his time playing chess with the old people at the retirement home where he works, and has an uncle, aunt and older cousin who live nearby. Yun Yun’s aunt is fondly solicitous towards her, picking her up after school and declaring that she wants to be the mother she doesn’t have and Yun Yun and her cousin, Zhang Qing are also close.
However, nothing is as it seems and before long Yun Yun’s once-secure world begins to fall apart. As Zhang Quing moves towards adolescence and clashes with her repressive parents the girls begin to drift apart. Tensions build between the two families revealing that their relationships have been founded on a terrible lie.
Yan Ge is an exciting new writing talent to have emerged in the last few years. White Horse, her bittersweet YA novella, was first published in Chinese in 2008. Eloquently translated into English by Nicky Harman it appeared as an E-book in 2014. At its heart is a coming-of-age story: Yun Yun and Zhang Qing’s innocent exploration of makeup, clothes and the discovery of the female body to the growing sexual awareness of Zhang Qing as she seeks more independence and having boyfriends which her parents find unacceptable. It is also a story about secrets and the terrible consequences they can have. Ge builds her story slowly and cleverly as the pages meander to a final crescendo.
Initially the aunt is portrayed as kind and caring, but as the story progresses she is increasingly seen as harsh and violent, particularly demonstrated in her relationship with her daughter Zhang Quin with their arguments escalating into physical abuse and often in public.
The symbolic white horse of the title – a feature of both mythological and historical storytelling in China – are a ghostly apparition that only Yun Yun can see. These sightings tends to occur when she is feeling under stress. It is seen as a bad omen foreshadowing further family strife to come. As the horrible incidents increase the white horse starts to appear more frequently.
Ge provides a sharp insight into contemporary small-town life together with rich cultural descriptions of the food the family eat and the sense of communal care of the motherless Yun Yun. Cultural differences are demonstrated by the focus on schoolwork and also, on the less acceptable to us, use of corporal punishment by the parents.
Despite being such a slight book, 84 pages, it is quite a demanding read. Although the conversational style draws you in it is necessary to interpret what has been left unsaid which will challenge readers. Accompanied by simple black pen and ink drawings by James Nunn, White Horse is a cross-over novella that will appeal to both teenagers and adults alike.