1 July 2010

My Novel - A Self-Critique

With The Ming Storytellers, I was not merely writing to thrill. I wanted to create an entertaining work of fiction that merged interesting characters, narrative, history with ideologies that were important to me. Visually I also wanted to evoke strong images that could do well on screen. Because I love film.

If after having read the book, a reader can, either consciously or subconsciously, perceive parallels between the events unravelling in this novel and society today, then I will have been successful.

If a reader can, either consciously or subconsciously understand the fallacy of Eurocentrism and gain a fresh perspective on the world, then I will have been successful.

The setting is China and the world during the 15th century. It is a remote and, to date, unfamiliar setting especially for non-mainland Chinese including myself. This remote and therefore, one may argue, arbitrary setting is perfect because it may be used to teach, it may be used to introduce a new paradigm about the world and society. However unlike the fictitious worlds of sci-fi or fantasy, it is still a world that is closer to home, a world that has set in motion certain patterns today and from which many parallels may be drawn with our world today.

The world in that period, when China, the Middle Kingdom, was a dominant power comes with its norms and its ideologies just as the English speaking world today has its own dominant Western centric ideologies.

The setting is also perfect because it encourages readers to see outside and understand that what we call normal is a myth.

One particular strategy I have used is to depict the society of the Nakhi people. While I have done this superficially and in no way do I call myself an anthropologist, the depiction of the Nakhi does put into question the generally accepted view of women in the Asian world. In the Nakhi kingdom, women were not submissive. Even the vocabulary used by the Nakhi attribute strength to feminine words and weakness to masculine words.

To conclude, all my characters have beliefs that are relevant to their times. In no way do these beliefs directly reflect my own although to some degree, a few of my characters' ideologies are informed by my values.

The themes explored in the novel include:

  • racism / xenophobia
  • gender roles
  • the nature of sexuality
  • power
  • existentialism
  • ambition / success
  • imperialism
  • dreams

I will flesh these out when I have time and explain the main ideas presented. I will also explain how these ideas challenge the dominant ideologies today.

It is no secret that for me the greatest joy would be that this novel becomes part of some education curriculum. All my life, given my multi-cultural background, the experiences I have had living in different countries and reconciling my multiple cultural identities while learning more about other cultures, then studying social psychology and understanding the influence of prejudice/perceptions/attitudes in human thinking, all these things have taught me that NOTHING that we take for granted as NORMAL is normal.
And when we cease to think in black and white, our tolerance and acceptance for others follows.

The Ming Storytellers is a historical novel set in the Ming Dynasty, at a time when China was in its Golden Age. It is a rich account of life in the Forbidden City and beyond drawing on four years of research on Chinese concubines, eunuchs, the Ming government, international relations and world travel in the 15th century. The novel draws on psychology and speculative history but belongs to the newly coined Ming Gothic genre.