Review: The Dragon and the Needle ~ Hugh Franks

dragon and needleThe clash between the Orient and the West is put under the spotlight in this far-reaching novel of medical and political intrigue. A mysterious syndrome is striking down political leaders across the Western world. Named Extraordinary Natural Death Syndrome, or ENDS, it has baffled medical experts. The Western prejudice against the mysteries of Oriental medicine, and the growing acceptance of acupuncture as an effective method of treatment, are just two of the contrasting approaches explored in the story. Then a brilliant young British doctor, Mike, and a glamorous American acupuncturist, Eleanor, become involved in finding the cause of ENDS. They think they are on the right track, but the implications are shocking. Could this be an audacious ideological plan for world domination? And how does Eleanor’s dead husband Chen fit in? When the secrets of Carry Tiger to Mountain are revealed, where will Eleanor’s loyalties ultimately lie?

3 Thumbs-UpIf this book doesn’t pull you in within the first few pages, you might as well lay it to one side and move onto something else; I was pulled in and sped through it in a day.

The male and female protagonists are scratchy, that is to say they have moments in the book where they really did grate on my nerves and, if it had not been for the fast paced plot I would probably have consigned this book to my not finished pile.  There were so many things about these characters I found a little hard to wrap my head round, and this really relegated them to being of a secondary nature to the storyline.  The female lead I found to be somewhat stereotypical, as she falls into the arms of the male lead without the reader really being able to understand what the attraction is between them.  I put this down to it being a matter of convenience, and the possibility they were attracted to each other’s minds; there was really no depth of emotion shown by either of them and this led to my not finding them plausible at all and the reason for my 3 thumbs review.

As to the storyline, what a great idea; holistic medicine vs. modern medicine, a debate that is constantly going the rounds but it really could have been handled a little differently, perhaps without making the usual East is evil West is wonderful statement.  With a little more expansion on the plot and some very firm dialogue editing this could have been an exceptional book, rather than just a good one.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a fast paced medical/political thriller, but don’t expect anything too in depth.  Would I read anything else by this Author?  Probably.

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Review: The Dark Road ~ Ma Jian, Flora Drew (Translator)

The Dark RoadMeili, a young peasant woman born in the remote heart of China, is married to Kongzi, a village school teacher, and a distant descendant of Confucius. They have a daughter, but desperate for a son to carry on his illustrious family line, Kongzi gets Meili pregnant again without waiting for official permission. When family planning officers storm the village to arrest violators of the population control policy, mother, father and daughter escape to the Yangtze River and begin a fugitive life.

For years they drift south through the poisoned waterways and ruined landscapes of China, picking up work as they go along, scavenging for necessities and flying from police detection. As Meili’s body continues to be invaded by her husband and assaulted by the state, she fights to regain control of her fate and that of her unborn child.

4 Thumbs-UpI read this book on the recommendation of a reader of my blog posts, and was glad I took the time to do so.  If you are expecting a Chinese version of Alan Burgess’s The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, you will be sorely disappointed.  There is no fairy tale happy ending, this book is grim and full of atrocities almost as soon as you start reading; it lives up to its title very well.

This is the first book I have read that was translated from Chinese and, although it made me squirm in places, it is incredibly well written and well translated.  During the opening chapters I had to take time to read carefully to make sure I wasn’t missing any nuances that the translator had wanted to include, and this worked well to the point that in no time I was reading through the pages with ease.  The Author has written and developed some truly believable characters within this books covers, characters that can be both embraced and reviled by the reader. However, be under no illusion that, unless you have walked a mile in these characters shoes, that you will be able to relate to them in any way; I haven’t, I wouldn’t want to experience what they do, and I couldn’t relate to them because of the situation they are in and the events that happen to them, I didn’t feel that this inability to connect with characters hurt my enjoyment of this novel in any way at all.

It is not light entertainment by any means, and contains graphic descriptions of the events that take place within its pages; one such being an abortion performed at eight months (just recalling this passage makes me shudder anew).  The Author brings to the surface all that is wrong with the One Child Policy practiced in China, and makes the policy all the more disturbing as they skilfully convey to the reader that there is nothing they can do about this.

This book is chilling, infuriating at times and almost unbearable to continue reading at others as it chronicles the inhumanity of the above mentioned policy, and the lengths that people will go to in order to avoid detection of their violation of this rule; most of all this is an incredible book with a wonderfully presented storyline written in a manner that will make you think about it long after you have closed the book for the last time.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to expand their reading sphere, providing they are not overly squeamish.

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