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Jocelyn (The Reading World)

I love to read and can get very attached to my opinions, but recently I've been learning not to completely lose my head when people disagree with me, so feel safe to argue with me whenever you wish ;) 


Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

Bound - Donna Jo Napoli

This is a book that retells the Chinese version of the Cinderella story--which appeared centuries before the European one--with unerring faithfulness, the only major change being that the setting is the Ming Dynasty, not Qin or Han.

By the Ming, foot-binding was already in widespread practice, and Napoli's graceful prose does a good job of describing its effects without spilling into horror. Toes are cut off, blood and pus is a result of long-term wrapping/crushing of the foot, women are left unable to walk properly. The exception is the protagonist, who has naturally small feet. Parts like that though are balanced with quite beautiful details too, such as Xing Xing's fish (the equivalent of the fairy godmother/wish-granting tree), descriptions of calligraphy and pottery, the dress and shoes Xing Xing wears to the festival.

What I do wish there was more of is a stronger sense of wonder. I don't know exactly where it's missing for me, but I would have liked the story to be less day-to-day, more strange. Stepmother's social-climbing-through-hopes-of-marriage-for-her-ugly-daughter felt repetitive, and her lack of true cruelty to Xing Xing dramatically lowers the stakes, making the end marriage to the prince feel tacked-on. If anything, Stepmother was a hell of a lot more cruel to her biological daughter than her stepdaughter (foot-binding, arranged marriage and all), so I was left wondering where I was supposed to put my sympathy. In addition, it made Stepmother's motives a lot more earthly and understandable than I'd expect from a fairy tale, further dampening the sense of wonder.

I think Napoli could have benefitted from taking just a slightly less modern outlook on foot-binding. Or conversely, make both stepsisters equally sympathetic and have a whole new twist with female friendship. Otherwise, it creates an odd contrast in tone, which isn't noticeable in small chunks but gradually builds up over the course of the story.

Overall though, I'm impressed by Napoli's writing style and anyone with the curiosity to seek out non-European fairy tales interests me. Although lacking somewhat in unpredictability and suspense, it's a well written novel(la?) that I enjoyed reading, and I'm interested to check out her other books and see how they compare to this one.