Monday, May 18, 2009

Guest Blog – Dragon Bones by Lisa See

Two years ago I read Flower Net, the first mystery by Lisa See. The protagonists are David Stark, an American attorney from San Francisco, and Liu Hulan, a top investigator in China’s security force. Liu is from a prominent family in Beijing but was actually educated in the United States. She and Stark first met when they were attorneys in the same firm in San Francisco.

In Dragon Bones the two are married and mourning the lose of their daughter who died from meningitis when she was three years old. Liu is dealing with the lose by isolating herself and seldom interacting with Stark. Liu’s old mentor Zai sends the two of them off to investigate the death of an American archeologist on the Yangzi River close to the Three Gorges. A huge dam is under construction that will flood the Three Gorges and displace millions of peasants. Archeologists are frantically digging and searching for artifacts before the dam is completed and the area is flooded permanently.

Dragon Bones was published in 2003 before the dam was completed. Needless to say one of my first breaks in reading was to look at the Three Gorges dam on the Internet. It was completed in part in 2006 but is not scheduled to be fully operational until 2011 . The dam was created to supply China with energy that is so badly needed as the country becomes an industrial nation.

The book is filled with discussions about Chinese history and folklore. If you are interested in the ancient history and folk tales of China, the book is filled with information. If you are a casual mystery reader like myself, you will need to be patient and determined to make it through the information. I have realized that I have only a very basic knowledge of the nation and know even less about China’s creation stories.

Overall I am glad that I read the book. I certainly have learned a lot more about China and its ancient civilizations. Part of the book involves the dead archeologist’s interest in the development of written language. I found this interesting since I was aware that all of the Asian languages with characters owe their roots to China. Japan although it has an ancient history had no written language until it started having commerce with China.

If you are looking for a good book about the early Chinese immigrants to the United States, I highly recommend See's book On Gold Mountain. I found the early history of See's ascendants fascinating. I came away from reading it with a much greater respect for those determined and hard working men who came to a hostile environment to help better the lives of their families in China.

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