Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Pair of Jade Frogs: Review

So....I picked up A Pair of Jade Frogs by Ye Xin because I needed an "X" author for the A-Z Mystery Authors Challenge. Well, okay, needed is a bit strong considering I've already met my commitment (doing authors A-I)...but given that the bulk of what I read is mystery-related, I thought surely I could manage the rest of the alphabet too. But I digress. I had found this book by doing a search for "X" mystery authors on Fantastic Fiction. In case you didn't know...there aren't exactly oodles of "X" authors out there--mystery or otherwise, so I was pleased to find an author that would work.

A Pair of Jade Frogs isn't your standard mystery story. There isn't a recognized detective. There isn't even a suspected crime until the very end. And there isn't a nice and tidy little wrap-up to explain all. The book begins with a case of bullying. Youyun is an "educated youth" who is sent to teach in a countryside elementary school during China's Cultural Revolution. At the time of the local country fair, one of his students is harassed by a group of young men who are determined to kidnap her. It is suspected that they intend to hold her for ransom--her father is said to have hidden a "national treasure" and the men want to get their hands on it. Youyun steps in and soon the other villagers who have been watching (and doing nothing) join him in getting the girl away from her captors.

The girl's father arranges a marriage for her to get her out of harm's way and eventually passes the treasure--a pair of priceless jade frogs--on to Youyun. He says that the young man's bravery in saving his daughter has proven that Youyun is a worthy guardian. In the meantime, the young teacher has begun a passionate affair with one of the older girls in the village. His possession of the frogs would seem to be a gateway for his marriage to Renping, but then events don't necessarily follow the path he envisions.

This was a very fast read. Probably because the translator has given the story to us in the most basic English. And speaking of the translation, there are some obvious points where it could have been more expertly done (example: "The thought brought on sweating cold sweat."). But for the most part, the story flowed and it was easy to follow. I found myself disappointed primarily because my research had led me to expect a mystery and a good two-thirds of the book focuses on the affair between Youyun and Renping. It seems to me that this book is more a comment on the times in which it is set than a real mystery. It is more about Youyun's search for self-respect and a settled place in life than about the mystery surrounding the frogs. The reader is left to her own conclusions at the end. I have no doubt that a betrayal has taken place and what the real crime is, but there is no satisfying wrap-up where the culprit is exposed. Two and a half stars.

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