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As the Earth Turns Silver
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As the Earth Turns Silver

3.7  ·  Rating details ·  390 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
This title is winner of the Janet Frame Fiction Award 2009. It is the early 1900s and brothers Yung and Shun, immigrants from China, eke out a living as greengrocers in Wellington. The pair must support their families back home, but know they must adapt if they are to survive and prosper in their adopted home. Meanwhile, Katherine McKechnie struggles to raise her rebelliou ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published June 29th 2009 by Penguin Books (NZ) (first published 2009)
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I read this as part of a read-along in the Book Loving Kiwis group. It is perhaps not something I would have picked out for myself, but a novel that I very much enjoyed.

The author's ancestors were early Chinese settlers in New Zealand, and while the book is a work of fiction, she has obviously done quite a bit of research about the time period (1905-1920)in order to recapture the atmosphere of a pre-WW1 Wellington. Very evocative of the time period - from the descriptions of the clothing, the li
Kathleen Dixon
Feb 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It's hard not to feel ashamed of one's ancestors when our racist past is laid bare. My mother's paternal family were Wellington residents a century ago and I don't imagine they were any different to the majority of white New Zealanders of the time. But if I were to feel shame, then I'd hope that every single person in the world would also feel shame for his and her ancestors, because nobody has been exempt. So I push those feelings aside (with a little note to self to make sure I continue to sta ...more
This novel is set in my hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, and spans the years 1905-1922. Two very different families find their lives intertwined with tragic results.

Two Chinese brothers are eking out an existence as fruiterers. They work long hours in a society that regards them, at best as second class citizens, at worst as a kind of animal. Struggling with English and ostracised by white New Zealanders, their lives are centred on the almost all-male Chinese community of Haining Street.

Aug 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vine, 2010
Strong characterisations.

This book had a quite unique feel about it; almost resembling the sort of jerkiness between words in the sound of the Chinese language. Perhaps I should describe it as a sticcato feel. The chapters were short and to the point, although I found the first few chapters extremely difficult to get into.
There isn't much plot, or, at least, the plot is almost totally revealed in the synopsis, so the book is left to rely heavily on the characters. Fortunately they are well drawn
Sara W
Apr 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
NZ author Alison Wong tells a tale of Wellington in the early 1900s, where xenophobia of the Chinese meant that a European woman who had a baby to a Chinese man could be put in a mental hospital. The book is gloriously researched, setting the taste and smell and feel of Tory St and Haning St and Courtney Place with the trams and horse-carts and grocer shops and opium dens. Even better when you live in the 'Chinese triangle' as I do, and its an area of the city that is still crowded with Chinese ...more
Mar 12, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: general-fiction
This is a debut novel for author Alison Wong. Set in Wellington New Zealand in the early twentieth-century it AS THE EARTH TURNS SILVER follows the intersecting lives of two people from two different cultures amid a time when racist policies were being presented to the New Zealand parliament. Chung Yung is a Chinese immigrant who helps his older brother run a fruit and vegetable shop in order to support their families back in China. Katherine McKechnie is struggling to raise two young children a ...more
I recently met a woman from a country town in Australia who boldly claimed that city men are too effeminate. Her veterinarian husband sat beside her, gently speaking with numerous other people, between her sudden outbursts of vitriol aimed at no one in particular that yet seemed so pointed. She is the type of person who would be offended and deeply challenged by this book.

Alison Wong gently introduces the tensions of a typical pre-war New Zealand family and gradually works the threads loose. The
Monique Engelen
Sep 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
What a little glimpse of Wellington at the turn of the century. Interesting to look at the treatment of the Chinese and of women. At some points I felt it fast forwarded a bit when we could have relished some key parts. Really enjoyed it, and was quite surprised.
Jan 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: kiwi-books
This book was an enjoyable read but failed to move me particularly. Considering the themes of the story – oppression and racism being the main two – the story could have caused some deep emotional stirrings but this didn’t happen for me.

Set at the turn of the last century, in Wellington, NZ, in the lead up to World War One, there are several key themes at play. And interestingly the story is not narrated from one perspective – the narrative is 3rd person the entire time, and told from the perspe
Laura Besley
Jun 25, 2013 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 09, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa by: ANZ LitLovers Yahoo book group
Shelves: new-zealand, c21st
This debut novel by Alison Wong was the July choice for the ANZ LitLovers reading group. Wong is an established poet and won the Janet Frame Fiction Award in 2009 for the novel. It’s the story of the widowed Katherine McKechnie and her love affair with a Chinese greengrocer, a relationship which has to remain secret because of the overt racism that characterised Wellington society at that time.

It’s not a plot-driven love story. The blurb on the book cover reveals most of the plot anyway so the r
Apr 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
I loved this - until the end. I don't think I'm giving anything too much away by saying it doesn't end happily, although i did not predict HOW it ended, and was shocked and sad. The ending was also so hope-less - Katherine, the main character, had lost so much, what was there left?

The plot is recounted in other reviews so I won't dwell on it here - a love affair between a Chinese man and a white woman in New Zealand at the beginning of the 20th century, a relationship that would not be accepted
Feb 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-clubs
I have been wanting to read this for a while so was delighted when it was this months book club read. I was under the impression from things written about it when it was awarded best NZ fiction award in 2010 that it was about the early Chinese immigrants in New Zealand. This is partly true but mostly it is a love story that was both predictable but surprising. It gave me plenty to ponder and much to feel sad about. Xenophobia is really about not knowing what you do not know - yet it can taint so ...more
Aug 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: new-zealand
This story explores issues of prejudice and freedom to live according to your own choices. Both of the main characters are trapped, Yung because the New Zealand society he lives in places him so far at the bottom that most people will not deign to look him in the eye, let alone have a conversation. Katherine because while her husband was alive she lived in his circle of control and after he dies she discovers the difficulties of coping and bringing up two children in a man's world. Both these ch ...more
Alumine Andrew
Aug 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-favourite
In the middle of our dreary grey winter I wanted a book to curl up with in front of the fire and be taken into a different world...I picked up this book and loved it from the first chapter.
The story is set in Wellington,New Zealand, from the late nineteenth century to the 1920's. Some chapters dash back to China to give background to the Chinese characters.

The writing is clear and the language handled in such a way that it's very easy to see the characters and the Wellington described.
The main c
Nov 23, 2013 rated it liked it
The story is engagingly complex - more than a simple love story, it is a story about family loyalty, betrayal and overwhelming guilt.

SPOILER ALERT (though you can probably guess from how the story evolves in the book anyway. I know I did!)

I did struggle to understand how Katherine, the mother, could continue the relationship with her son after what he did, but I suppose she had lost so much already. Given Robbie's attitude growing up I suppose in a way she had "lost him" long ago - when he was
Maya Panika
May 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
An historical romance across the divide – not at all the kind of thing I usually read but this was a poignant, well-paced, beautifully written account of a tragic love-affair in early 20th Century New Zealand. The only problem I had was with the style which felt, at times, a little distanced from the characters - it’s a first person narrative but you feel as though the characters are speaking from outside themselves, watching events rather than experiencing them that gives the narrative a detach ...more
Sep 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
New Zealand, 1905. Two brothers own a green grocery in Wellington, ending money to relatives back home in China. Young mother Katherine shops there almost daily, and is surprised and humbled by the generosity of the younger brother, Yung. He knows Katherine is a widow, and gives her slices of apple to try, or slips extra pears or onions into her bag.

Slowly, Yung and Katherine become friends; she teaches him English words and phrases, and he teaches her Chinese words and introduces her to new fru
Jan 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nz, fiction-read-2011
This beautifully written inter-racial love story is set in Wellington between 1905 and 1922. The intertwining of the Chinese fruiterer's family and the woman's family back in a time where relationships such as these were forbidden brings tragic consequences.
This is a debut novel by a Kiwi author, who reminds us painfully that Chinese were not made welcome in our society. Her language is spare, the chapters are short, and the reader feels enough distance from the characters to give it an Orienta
Sep 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
I loved the rhythm of this book, which sat waiting on the shelf for a couple of years. After recognising London and New York in so many books and films it was interesting to glimpse parts of Wellington that I know, though I've never lived there. I must pass it on to my mother who grew up in that area.
The use of historical facts and characters was interesting, and I found it fascinating to realise the author might have lived on the same street as I did - I read ALL of the book.
I did think there
May 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: bookclub
I read this book in two bursts, and I'm not sure why it didn't grip me enough to read it straight through - without the several week break in the middle - because when I was reading it I enjoyed it. (Of course, there is the fact it is one of those annoying paper books and not on my iPad!)

Is it that I was afraid of the outcome? Possibly. It is a lovely book, and is very interesting to imagine Wellington back at the turn of the century, and to look at the changing societal values - eg feminism, a
Dec 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Catching up with my NZ writers. Loved this book. I moved near where it is set about half way through reading the book. Am just near Haining St so was poignant reading about the area.

Best bit, sorry didn't copy page number down, took photograph on phone:

She closed her eyes. She'd always had so many thoughts inside her, thoughts that never came out. Always felt so awkward in her pale, freckled skin. But now she understood. He'd given her language, his language, a new opening into her own. And he'
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Honest and profound sense of both mother-child and cross-racial relationships, and their machinations within pre-WWI New Zealand society. The chapters were extremely short and shifted between character perspectives just enough to pull the pace along nicely. This book contains some "local nudges" and is probably more fun if you know a little bit about Wellington geography. All in all, an impressive first novel!
Jene' Koenig
I'm not sure exactly why I liked this book so much. It's a story of tragedy, crossing boundaries, and moving forward. I really liked the characters, and how they were portrayed. I liked the historical context, and it was a great love story, and a reminder that there aren't always happily ever afters. So I guess what I'm saying is, it's definitely worth the read.
Amie Mills
Dec 19, 2010 rated it liked it
I read this book on a 9-hour bus trip from London to Edinburgh and it made me weep. Heartfelt and harrowing, it transported me back to a Wellington I could barely imagine. A time before war had broken out and when £3 was a small fortune. I especially liked the way that the Chinese and English language overlapped and intertwined themselves in love. Twas beautiful.

Aug 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Probably a 3.5. I found the story interesting, and a remarkable insight into a period of New Zealand history that, notwithstanding an official apology, has been swept under the carpet in public consciousness. Instantly familiar in tone and sense, my only real criticism would be the pacing - I had the sense that things were rushed towards the end.
Mar 28, 2013 rated it liked it
Una historia bonita (se nota que la autora es poetisa) pero que, en última instancia, y para mi gusto personal, se queda demasiado en la superficie. Por un lado se agradece que no se haga de la historia un drama, pero aún así... Interesante también por su trasfondo histórico y cultural, en cualquier caso podría haber quedado en poco más que un relato o una 'novella'.
Jan 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
A lovely inter-race love story set in Wellington either side of the first world war, the story of a young mother trying to raise her family is counterpointed with a Chinese migrant trying to make a go of a new life. Touching, poignant, evocative: you can almost smell the moonlit cabbage trees around the Basin Reserve beneath which two young lovers meet.
Jul 27, 2011 rated it liked it
intersting novel set in New Zealand in the early 1900 up to the Second World War. I did not realise there were Chinese immigrants there even as far back then. This novel chronicles the relationship that develops between a Chinese grocer and a Caucasioan widow. They keep thieir relationship secret due to racism but despite that consequences are tragic.
This was a fascinating and beautiful read that provided great (if upsetting) insight into the life of wellington residents in the early 20th century. The way in which the chinese were treated was awful - which made the relationship between the main characters all the more extraordinary. Well worth it and an easy read although surprising that it was the NZ Book of the Year om 2010.
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Love story vs historical injustice 2 5 Apr 02, 2013 04:22PM  
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There is more than one author with this name

Alison Wong (born 1960) is a New Zealand poet of Chinese heritage. Her background in mathematics comes across in her poetry, not as a subject, but in the careful formulation of words to white space and precision. She has a half-Chinese son with New Zealand poet Linzy Forbes.

Wong has received various awards for her fiction and poetry including the 2002 Ro
More about Alison Wong...

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