After the rollercoaster ride of the interviews with Lionel Shriver and William Dalrymple, the festival event with Alison Wong talking on her book As the Earth Turns Silver was like a soothing balm to the soul. Wong does not just write fiction, she writes poetic fiction and freely admits that “I care about every word”.
This book is a slice of life in Wellington in the early 1900s where inter-racial prejudice was rife. It is a love story about a clandestine relationship between a pakeha woman and a Chinese man. It is never destined to have a happy ending. Wong researched this period very thoroughly and slowly – the book was about 12 years in the making. It is quite beautiful and flawless – like a little gem. I believe that it will be well loved in the many reading groups around the country and certainly my book club can look forward to meeting up with it sometime very soon.
Wong wrote from when she was a little eight year old girl and found early on that she loved books with “emotional substance” she mentions two books that she remembers affected her very deeply, The Hill of the Red Fox and Owls do Cry by Janet Frame. She finds writing poetry easier than fiction writing and confessed that she often does not feel like writing, saying “it is a real test of character for me”. When inspiration is flowing though, she likes to write in little cafes and coffee shops where she can be seen sitting with her laptop, a latte and a view of the Wellington coast that she loves so much.
There is a scene towards the end of this book involving two Devonshire teas that made me weep. It is so beautiful it cries out to be painted. Instead I will make do with the thought that the character has while she sits with her cream scones: “There is nothing more empty than that which was full.”