Michelle Jana Chan’s novel Song tells the inspirational saga of a young Chinese boy’s struggle to defy class and racial lines in colonial British Guyana in the late 1800s. After a flood in his village in China takes his father and siblings, Song finds his way to Guangzhou and boards a ship that eventually takes him to a sugarcane plantation half a world away. His industry on board ship leads him to learn English, and eventually find a benefactor in the local vicar. But Father Holme’s kindness does not sit well with his Georgetown congregation, and he is forced to the interior. This is where Song is able to thrive and maybe ascend, among the wildlife he loves and the fever of gold mining.
The strength in Chan’s novel lies in the undying hope and optimism of her main character. Even in the “wild west” town of Bartica, Song is able to balance his good luck with his misfortune. Although the plot may seem straightforward at times, there is an inner turmoil in Song that keeps the tension high. From the descriptions of the birds in the jungle to the relationships the characters develop, Chan’s writing can be quite lyrical at times. The prose draws the reader in as Song tries everything he can to help himself and others fight the injustices of British rule.
Overall, Song is a worthy read. It is no simple Horatio Alger tale, but one that is layered with themes of systematic racism, religious hypocrisy, and most importantly, love of family. This is the history of colonial times come alive.
4 out of 5 stars
Comes out on June 28th, 2018.
Thank you to NetGalley, Unbound, and Michelle Jana Chan for the advance copy for review.