Since its arrival with Western imperialists, Christianity has faced much persecution throughout China. During the Boxer Rebellion, many Chinese Christians were executed for their beliefs. The graphic novel, Saints, highlights this religious persecution through the eyes of Fourth Girl, also called Vibiana. Her struggles as a Chinese Christian woman are intertwined with visitations from Joan of Arc, the European French saint, though she had not yet been canonized. Through her visions of Joan, Vibiana must discover her identity when society has not given her one.
A great heroine looking for identity
Blends fantasy over a historical backdrop
Art is a little too simplistic
If you read Boxers, it gives away the ending of Saints
ONE CHARACTER’S VILLAIN IS ANOTHER’S HERO
Gene Luen Yang’s Saints follows Fourth Girl, a.k.a. Vibiana, a Christian convert living during the Boxer Rebellion. One of the main themes in this graphic novel is identity. Vibiana’s determination to discover who she is drives her to the Christan faith. In the beginning, Vibiana is a happy-go-lucky character, with little understanding of the world around her. Being the youngest girl in her family, she craves attention. Due to the superstitious beliefs of her family’s traditions, Vibiana is an outcast, a fourth daughter that symbolizes death and misfortune. Eventually, her family’s ostracism and neglect drive her to the local church, where she is accepted by them. Aiding Vibiana on her journey is Joan of Arc, the French saint who led her people against foreign English invaders. It is unexpected for Yang to choose Joan as Vibiana’s patron, but later it fits seamlessly into the story’s conclusion.
With Saints, Gene Yang empathizes with the struggles of Chinese women in this era. Because of her family’s superstitutions, Vibiana believes she is born evil. Her life represents a criticism of the old traditional ways of China. If her family treated her differently, Vibiana would not have joined the Christian faith. Even though he points out many flaws within traditionalist Chinese beliefs, the writer reveals several contradictions of the Western faith. It is these contradictions that lead Vibiana to question her faith, fueling her confusion and search for purpose. Like Boxers, the themes of language barriers and miscommunication play a major role in portraying the conflict between China and the West. However, where as some characters in Boxers are portrayed as the villains, these same characters are protagonists in Saints. Unfortunately, you read Boxer first, you know what happens to Vibiana in Saints. Still, the story has great twists that will keep the reader guessing.
SIMPLE BUT FAMILIAR ART
Gene Luen Yang also provides the artwork for the graphic novel Saints. His artwork in Saints is familiar to his previous works like American Born Chinese, his art style should be familiar. Its clear lines and simple caricatures use basic color tones and basic rectangle panels. Although it lacks the three-dimensionality and dynamic panels of modern comic art, its basic forms breathes life into Wang’s characters. Despite its simplicity, the artist can create recognizably different characters through minor variations.
BOTTOM LINE: A GREAT TALE OF COURAGE
Gene Luen Yang’s Saints is a great story about sacrificing for your beliefs, even if that faith is not your own. Vibiana is an tremendously courageous heroine who defies her own people and culture and eventually finds her identity. Although her story is a tragedy, its message is still powerful and emotional, suggesting no one can fully understand the meaning of their own life.