The Yellow Papers

Dominique Wilson

The Yellow Papers
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The Yellow Papers

Dominique Wilson

It’s 1872 and China - still bruised from its defeat in the two Opium Wars - sends a group of boys, including seven-year-old Chen Mu, to America to study and bring back the secrets of the West. But nine years on Chen Mu becomes a fugitive and flees to Umberumberka, a mining town in outback Australia. He eventually finds peace working for Matthew Dawson, a rich pastoralist.

When the bubonic plague ravages Sydney, Matthew Dawson’s daughter returns to her father’s property with her son, Edward. But it’s a lonely life for a small boy surrounded only by adults, and he soon befriends Chen Mu, forging a friendship that will last a lifetime.

Years later, Edward visits a mysterious and decadent Shanghai, where he falls in love with Ming Li, the beautiful young wife of a Chinese businessman, until invading Japanese armies tear the couple apart. Many years pass before the couple reunite, each scarred by the events of World War II and the Korean War. But will it be only to be torn apart once again?

The Yellow Papers is a story of love, obsession and friendship set against a backdrop of war and racial prejudice.

‘Dominique Wilson is a wonderful storyteller. Spanning the histories of China and Australia, this tale, woven between tenderness and violence, percolates with alternating emotions until the final page is turned. The research is impeccable, the realism unforgiving.’ (Brian Castro, award-winning author of Shanghai Dancing and After China.)

‘Moving and thought-provoking. An outstanding novel of originality and psychological depth.‘ (Julienne van Loon, award-winning author of Road Story and Harmless.)

Review

Melbourne-based independent press Transit Lounge has a particular interest in works that explore the connections between East and West, and this latest release, with a narrative that moves between characters in Australia and China, certainly fits this brief. The Yellow Papers is Dominique Wilson’s first novel but she has published several short stories and was founding managing editor of Wet Ink, a magazine devoted to new writing.

The Yellow Papers spans 100 years, shifting between several countries and following characters over generations; amazingly, Wilson fits this epic scope into a reasonably sized, 350-page novel. She does this skilfully by passing over decades and trusting the reader to fill in the gaps. At the heart of the novel is the character of Chen Mu, born in China but sent to America when he was seven. As a teenager he is forced to flee and by chance ends up in outback Australia. We then follow several other characters throughout the century, lingering on a forbidden relationship between a white Australian and a Chinese woman, both of whom are married to other people.

Although impeccably researched, the writing was a little passive in parts, and I found some of the characters, and their relationships, hard to connect with because of this. Chen Mu, however, is Wilson’s most fleshed out character and his presence is affectionately felt throughout the novel, even when he is not part of the immediate narrative – I was genuinely moved by his fate.


Kara Nicholson is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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